By Todd House
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
In rural Kentucky, tiny hospitals are struggling to survive. Most small communities have a drastic shortage of doctors in specialty areas, such as anesthesiology. These doctors tend to locate themselves in large cities, where they can make the most of their practice. But without an anesthesiologist a hospital cannot perform surgery, and without surgery these small hospitals will not be able to find the funds to stay in business. This is one of the reasons why health care in small and secluded communities is so notoriously difficult to obtain.
As an anesthesiologist and a pilot, I feel fortunate that I am able to help fill this shortage. I use my plane to reach patients in remote locations, thereby keeping both individual patients and hospitals alive. While an anesthesiologist sent by a larger company would have to use a commercial airline to fly to a large airport, and then rent a car in order to reach a remote location, my small airplane allows me to fly directly into rural communities, cutting hours off the time thereby making my service more immediately available to patients in need.
Many pilots in Kentucky use aviation as a means to compete in the business world and as a way to give back to their communities through volunteer and charity organizations such as Angel Flight. Organizations like Angel Flight are made up of dedicated and giving members; but with the cost of airplane operation and ownership soaring they find themselves more and more financially restrained from helping those in desperate need of the scarce service only they can provide with their flying skills and airplanes.
Unfortunately, the airlines’ latest attempt to pad their bottom line is threatening this service and all general aviation. Under the guise of modernizing our air traffic control system, the airlines are attempting to shift their tax obligations onto the shoulders of general aviation. They would do this through the institution of costly new taxes and fees called “user fees.”
They justify this massive tax cut for their airline industry by saying that this will somehow relieve delays – ones that are caused by their own business model of jam-packing thousands of flights into hub airports at rush hour. But, any passenger who has flown lately knows better. In addition, the airline’s proposal would add great financial burdens to business and private aviation which will impact adversely the business and volunteer work of many pilots like me. If this occurs, the economic impact on rural communities and thousands of needy patients will be devastating.
Thankfully, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has rejected the user fee system and drafted a bill that keeps the current, dependable funding structure intact. This proposal recently reached the House floor and was successfully passed.
The Senate Finance Committee also drafted and passed a similar proposal which also rejected the user fee plan and allows pilots to use the same, equitable “pay-at-the-pump” system which has been proven to generate more than adequate funding levels for modernization. But the fight to protect general aviation is not over. The bill will now move into the full Senate where all senators will have the chance to do their part to fund modernization and to keep the general aviation industry and local communities strong.
As the bill moves to the Senate floor, pilots in Kentucky and across the U.S. are depending upon Sens. Jim Bunning and Mitch McConnell to support the Finance Committee’s recommendation and stand up for small communities and businesses across Kentucky.
Todd House is an anesthesiologist and pilot who logs more than 200 flight hours per year. He is an Angel Flight volunteer pilot and a member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America. He lives in Louisville.
Source: ELIZABETHTOWN NEWS-ENTERPRISE