Since the deregulation of the airline industry, the airlines have focused the vast majority of their attention and flights into a few select hub airports, leaving smaller airports behind. This has affected not only Arkansas travelers, but the businesses and economies of our small towns and rural communities.
In Arkansas, two of these communities that have lost commercial service – Hot Springs and Jonesboro – have left residents traveling hours to reach airports in Tulsa, Memphis, Dallas or Little Rock. Yet, luckily, with the aid of our state’s strong infrastructure of small airports and aircraft across our state – loosely termed general aviation – while commercial service remains crucially important and cannot be replaced, many businesses, farmers, doctors and other organizations have come to depend on this important form of transportation.
Using the 91 airports across Arkansas, general aviation connects rural communities with industries, cities, and towns all across America, producing jobs locally and providing a continuous source of business opportunity and economic growth. Businesses rank our strong general aviation system as one of the best assets Arkansas has to offer. With the aid of general aviation, businesses can reach small towns and rural communities in a fraction of the time it would take by driving. Middle managers and technical workers can fly to remote or rural locations with ease, keeping the economy of Arkansas going strong.
Business is not the only aspect of Arkansas life that is impacted by general aviation. Many of the pilots who fly for their businesses also volunteer for disaster relief and aviation-based charities, at their own expense. As a state firmly seated in Tornado Alley and with our history of flooding, general aviation’s ability to access our communities for aid is essential. Many pilots volunteer for Angel Flight South-Central, a service that transports critically ill patients in need of medical treatment to specialized facilities at no cost to the patient. In these cases, an efficient general aviation system can be the difference between life and death.
Despite the multitude of benefits general aviation provides to our state, we’ve heard disparaging stories in the media about general aviation that have cast a negative shadow over the entire industry. The truth is 85% of businesses that use general aviation are small to mid-sized companies, like most businesses that operate here in Arkansas. They utilize general aviation primarily because commercial aviation cannot meet the needs of their business, and in Arkansas, general aviation is responsible for 5,400 jobs and over $500 million in economic activity across the state in innumerable sectors.
But lately, general aviation employers in Arkansas are feeling the impact of the sluggish economy. On June 6, Dassault Falcon Jet laid off 150 workers in Little Rock due to the economic downturn. Hawker-Beechcraft, which has a facility at Adams Field in Little Rock, has laid off 2,300 companywide in 2009 alone.
In addition, there are a number ofill-advised proposalsthat also threaten our livelihood, including a placeholder in the Administration’s budget for unnecessary per-flight taxes called “user fees” to fund the modernization of our air traffic control system. These fees would create a bureaucratic nightmarefor the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the entire general aviation industry, whom will be buried in the new bureaucracy needed to process all of these endless invoices. Businesses in Arkansas cannot afford this huge new bureaucracy and may be forced to downsize or close, removing jobs from our economy. Pilots who volunteer their planes for charitable purposes may have to curtail missions given the extra costs.
We must also reject attempts by the Transportation Security Administration to impose a slew of unnecessary regulations that would do little to increase security but dramatically increase needless bureaucracy. These regulations, which would restrict businesses from carrying essential tools on their small aircraft, would even potentially prevent a manufacturer from bringing his hammer on board.
Thankfully, Senator Pryor, Senator Lincoln and Governor Beebe are staunch supporters of aviation in Arkansas. The entire aviation community thanks them for their leadership and we urge other leaders and officials across the state and the country to support this vital lifeline that benefits businesses and charities all over the heartland of America.
George Downie is the President of the Arkansas Airport Operators Association (AAOA) arkansasairports.org. Mr. Downie is a member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America.
Source: THE SENTINEL RECORD