Wednesday, September 19, 2007
As any Oregon parent of a child settling into college can tell you, cost is one of the deciding factors that families consider in choosing which institution of higher learning is right for a student. As tuition costs rise, the choice of schools starts to shrink. But students must also contemplate the future within their chosen area of focus, weighing the benefits of a career in their prospective field.
The same is true for students whose classroom is Oregon’s skies. The decision to become a professional pilot is not one students take lightly. But right now, the major airlines are trying to make that decision for them. Using expensive lobbyists and propaganda campaigns, the airlines are attempting to push through a complete overhaul of the funding structure of the Federal Aviation Administration at the expense of users of smaller aircraft, commonly referred to as general aviation. The airlines are promoting a radically new system that would force a multitude of fees and charges onto general aviation pilots while leaving the door open for the commercial airline companies to pocket huge tax breaks.
This combination of new and increased taxes would put general aviation at serious risk of permanent grounding, which would affect small businesses, communities and emergency and medical services not only across Oregon but also across the nation.
As the current pilots approach retirement, both private aviation and commercial airlines will need to hire quality pilots to fly for years to come. The airlines are ignoring this glaring fact. A lack of dedicated pilots in the future will result in increased delays for airlines and even more unreliability in scheduling flights.
The vast majority — 85 percent — of the businesses that use general aviation are small and mid-size businesses, and the pilots who rely on flight instruction services serve everyone from manufacturers to nurseries and greenhouses. These small businesses rely on their planes to get quick and efficient access to distributors, sales representatives and their customers. Many of these businesses serve rural communities and provide essential products and services to keep communities prosperous and thriving. Small airports that are largely ignored by the large airlines are serviced by general aviation pilots carrying passengers and goods from town to town.
Charitable and nonprofit organizations that rely on pilots to volunteer their time, planes and money would be hit hard as well. For decades, pilots have volunteered for organizations such as Angel Flight West to transport patients to and from hospitals to receive possibly life-saving treatments and procedures. With the new taxes proposed, these volunteers may no longer be able to afford to make the flights, resulting in Oregonians losing a valuable and essential medical service.
While the Senate Commerce Committee has recommended these radical new fees, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee took a more common-sense approach by keeping the current tax system intact.
Soon, the Senate Finance Committee will draft its own bill for FAA reauthorization, and pilots across Oregon should urge both Sens. Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith to follow the House’s example and continue to support small businesses and communities in our state.
Bruce Bennett is president of Aurora Aviation in Aurora.