NACOGDOCHES – Throughout the years, Texans have shown a unique determination and resolve that has earned the state its reputation of being the paragon of self-sufficiency and hard work.
Despite the economic downturn and the fact that more than 155,000 Texans have lost their jobs in 2009 alone, we have soldiered on, relying on creativity and whatever new tools and resources we can find to serve our customers and continue our livelihood.
While this crisis has certainly affected Texas businesses, in many cases, the investment in a small aircraft has allowed businesses to not only sustain their business, but serve communities in Texas that would otherwise take hours or even days to reach. These small aircraft – broadly called general aviation – are a vital driver of Texas’ economy, providing jobs to nearly 62,000 Texans in sectors ranging from manufacturing to equipment maintenance, construction, and many more. General aviation accounts for $8.7 billion in economic output in our state alone. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, general aviation activity sustains an astonishing 29,700 jobs in our state alone. Additionally, more than 250 airports across Texas utilize general aviation and 4.5 million general aviation flights in our state each year.
The fact is that 85 percent of businesses that use general aviation are small to mid-sized, and the majority of the employees transported by general aviation use it to travel quickly to distant and rural locations that oftentimes do not have commercial airline service. Beyond airports and aviation manufacturing, many other less-discussed segments of the U.S. economy rely on general aviation. Many farmers use their aircraft to maintain their herds and crops as well as to distribute their yield, businesses use it to reach the thousands of markets that otherwise would not be accessible through commercial air service, and general aviation is the most efficient, and sometimes the only way, to bring much needed supplies to the affected areas. This was true after Hurricane Katrina hit the coast, and many pilots continue to participate in charitable organizations such as Angel Flight, transporting the critically ill who live in rural communities to specialized treatment centers across the country. Many also are members of their local branch of the Civil Air Patrol, engaging in search and rescue missions while others work with the Red Cross and other organizations to arrange transportation of life-saving material such as organs and human tissue to hospitals around the nation.
Yet general aviation faces challenges on several fronts. For example, in the most recent budget, the administration include a placeholder for harmful per flight taxes called user fees. These user fees would create a bureaucratic nightmare for the FAA, not to mention the thousands of businesses that would have to shoulder millions in unnecessary taxes and fees, and find ways to process all of this new administrative burden. The recently passed House FAA reauthorization bill raises millions in new funding by preserving the current, pay-at-the-pump fuel tax system, which is simple, efficient and easy to use.
In addition to ensuring a fair and efficient funding structure, we need to ensure that general aviation is not saddled with ill-advised and unnecessary security procedures. The Transportation Security Administration has proposed several radical new regulations that attempt to take a “one size fits all approach” by incorporating regulations that apply to commercial aviation onto general aviation aircraft, which would severely hurt businesses, organizations and charitable groups that depend on generation aviation. Basic necessities like medical equipment, and basic tools like a hammer would be prohibited for businesses, seriously hampering efficiency, costing customers, and ultimately, resulting in these groups having to cut back and in some cases, halt flying altogether.
In this economic climate, let’s focus on modernizing our air traffic control system, and investing in this important segment of the economy.
The truth is that these aircraft and businesses serve as the lifeblood to small towns and local economies around the country, and we need to be doing everything possible to support this vital form of transportation.
Roger Van Horn is mayor of Nacogdoches and is a member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America.
Source: AMARILLO GLOBE-NEWS