By Don Higgins
Across Kentucky, pilots are waiting to save a life.
A transplant patient could get a call at any moment saying that a donor has been found. After that phone call, the patient needs to get to the hospital as soon as possible or risk losing perhaps his only opportunity to receive a life-saving transplant.
No matter when such calls come in, pilots volunteering at Angel Flight and sister organizations are ready to take patients to get life-saving treatment.
Without the ability to use the skies, some patients may not be able to make it to the hospital in time and could be forced back onto the waiting list, praying to hear the phone ring again.
Despite all of their service, these volunteer pilots are in danger of not being able to afford to fly. The major airlines and their lobbyists are pushing a proposal through the Senate that calls for a massive tax increase on small planes while the airlines pocket a huge tax break.
Under the proposal contained in the Senate’s FAA reauthorization bill, all turbine-powered aircraft, which are often used by these volunteer pilots, will pay a new $25-a-flight tax, which the legislation calls a user fee. It will be applied regardless of the size of the aircraft, which means a small aircraft carrying four passengers will pay the same as a jet carrying 400.
The user fee/tax is but the opening price. The total asked for by the airlines would make each general aviation flight cost hundreds of dollars more.
As general aviation pays this tax, we also will have to shoulder a massive increase in the fuel tax, which will more than double, from 21 cents a gallon to 49 cents a gallon. But the airlines’ fuel tax would be eliminated.
The fact is that 85 percent of those who use general aviation are small and midsize businesses serving small towns and remote areas of the country. Many of the volunteer pilots primarily use their aircraft for their small businesses and donate their time and use of their planes as often as they can.
The planes connect their owners to business partners, labor and distributors in a timely manner and allow the business to connect with customers who would otherwise be inaccessible.
By using small general aviation airports all over the United States, these businesses make their products and services available to rural citizens. However, if this tax is enacted, these airports will see less traffic and, therefore, generate less revenue.
With gas prices skyrocketing, I have already cut my flying hours by 30 percent this year. If this tax scheme is enacted, my flight hours will be cut even more as I am unable to afford any more fees.
The devastation from the taxes will show in the role small airplanes play in emergency response and medical care. During forest fires, floods, hurricanes and tornados, pilots have volunteered their time to save the lives of those in danger. Organizations such as Angel Flight will begin to lose membership as pilots are taxed to the ground.
Since pilots finance these flights out of their own pockets and are not reimbursed, these fees will take a toll on the pilots operating on a tight budget. Many members fly up to eight missions a year, with each costing the pilot anywhere from $500 to more than $1,000.
Furthermore, I see a growing number of planes with “For Sale” signs on them at the small airports I visit. With the new taxes, many more planes will appear on the market, driving down local property taxes. These taxes are an important revenue stream for schools and other publicly funded services.
These pilots — small-business owners, doctors, car dealers and simply aircraft owners — are the heart of general aviation and a several-billion-dollar-a-year industry. For example, the economic impact of the airport I fly out of — Bowman Field — on the Louisville economy was more than $35 million for 2005.
These pilots provide Kentucky with some of the most respected products and services, and that is why we should be doing everything we can to support them, not taxing them out of the air.
Don Higgins of Fisherville is an aircraft owner and member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America and the Friends of Bowman.
Source: LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER