By: Jim Sweeney, INFORUM
As the waters of the Red River began to rise, North Dakotans from all corners of the state prepared, pitched in and helped their neighbors with supplies, manpower and support. The National Guard helped with evacuations, volunteers helped with sandbagging as the river continued to rise, and working hand-in-hand with the Civil Air Patrol and Guard, members of the general aviation community stepped up to do their part to aid residents as the floodwaters crested.
Utilizing their own aircraft, these pilots helped members of the Guard monitor the floods from the sky, and using small airports across North Dakota, members of the National Guard and the Civil Air Patrol were able to refuel and return to the disaster area quickly, providing residents with the assistance they needed to get out of harm’s way.
While their good deeds during the flood went virtually unnoticed – and nor would these classic North Dakotans look for any type of praise or recognition – many of these same pilots, whose planes allow them to operate their business, carry patients to medical care, or operate their business miles from an urban center, have been ridiculed as a “luxury” rather than a vital business tool.
The truth is that with only eight communities in North Dakota receiving scheduled airline service, these same small airports and the businesses and groups that depend on them serve as a vital lifeline to more than
80 communities across our state. These small airports allow businesses to access rural and isolated communities and provide goods and services to the residents they may otherwise not be able to access.
These businesses are deeply embedded in the fabric of our economy. In North Dakota alone, the general aviation industry accounts for 4,932 jobs and more than $354.4 million in economic activity every year in fields such as manufacturing, telecommunications, distributing and utility companies. Additionally, general aviation is vital to North Dakota’s agricultural industry, with countless farms and ranches across the state relying on general aviation to not only spray their crops, but also monitor their herds, deliver supplies and transport specialized equipment quickly and efficiently.
While general aviation serves as the backbone of these towns, the industry is constantly under threat from unnecessary taxes and fees that would take a toll on not only the businesses that use small aircraft, but also the communities that rely on them. In the budget released by the administration, there is a placeholder for per-flight “user fees.” Rather than staying with the current, pay-at-the-pump fuel tax structure, these user fees would force a massive bureaucracy onto the aviation industry and the Federal Aviation Administration.
And there is no need, when we can fully fund modernization through our current fuel tax structure – that’s why the House of Representatives recently passed a common-sense proposal to fund modernization of our air traffic control system by retaining the existing, pay-at-the-pump fuel tax, which is simple and easy to use.
Additionally, we cannot place unnecessary restrictions on the general aviation industry that may ultimately prevent them from being a critical lifeline to North Dakota communities. Recently, the Transportation Security Administration has proposed numerous restrictive security measures to be placed on general aviation aircraft. In fact, under the proposed rules, a carpenter could be prevented from bringing a hammer onto his own aircraft, and all sorts of other burdensome regulations that seem to only be created in Washington, D.C. These regulations are not only unnecessary, they are destructive to the firms that drive the economies of towns across North Dakota.
Luckily, North Dakota has great advocates in Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad and Rep. Earl Pomeroy, but we need to continually remind those around the country of the importance of this crucial lifeline, particularly in states such as ours. Whether it’s providing jobs to a town like Devils Lake or flying above the floodwaters near Fargo, general aviation is an essential lifeline that we must preserve and not destroy.
Source: FARGO FORUM