Proposal Would Hurt Emergency Pilots
July 29, 2009
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  • Keith Laken

    Saturday, February 16, 2008

    Every once in a while, one can see a plane overhead. Most of the time it’s a commercial airline flying passengers on vacations or business trips. Sometimes, the trip is far more special. Small aircraft pilots, who spend most of their time aiding small businesses around Illinois, periodically take time away to aid in saving lives.

    Peoria-based Lifeline Pilots takes great pride in its service. Its pilots volunteer their planes to terminally ill patients who need life-saving treatments from hospitals that may be otherwise impossible to reach. With high ticket prices and uncertainty swirling around the airlines, many patients would face a crisis if not for these pilots. Each year, they fly over 500 volunteer flights, shuttling 1,500 people.

    But big airlines are casting a dark cloud over this vital service. Instead of taking the time to remedy their management problems, they have been lobbying for a faulty Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization proposal intended to award them a massive tax break. Their proposal would call for the removal of the only taxes the airlines pay and place them on the shoulders of those who fly private planes. They call for a complete overhaul of the tried-and-true fuel tax system and seek to replace it with a new “user fee” tax system.

    The harm that this proposal does begins with small Illinois businesses. Many have found that owning their own plane is an efficient way to reach customers in places the major airlines ignore. The additional tax burden on these pilots could force some to limit their customer outreach.

    And with fewer planes using small airports, some may close their runways. With landing areas limited, many in need of immediate medical treatment could be harmed.

    None would be more hurt than Illinois’ volunteer pilots. These pilots, who fund missions out of their own pockets, may not be able to afford Lifeline service. With about two flights taking off every day during the week, an absence of pilots would really harm those who depend on them.

    Congress has made amazing strides in drafting FAA reauthorization legislation. The House, under the leadership of Illinois Rep. Jerry Costello and others, has drafted a bill that keeps the current fuel tax structure intact. The Senate Finance Committee has followed suit.

    But Congress must finish the job. By finalizing this legislation quickly, pilots, small businesses and patients across Illinois can rest easy.

    Keith Laken

    Executive director, Lifeline Pilots, Peoria

    Date: 2008-02-16