By: Bert C. Corwin
Noncommercial flights important to economy in S.D., across nation
Recently, according to news reports, a hiker in Badlands National Park fell and slid into a crack in a rock, suffering injuries to his leg and back. Among the first to respond was Black Hills Life Flight, an organization that specializes in aerial medical transportation. They, along with the South Dakota Air National Guard, helped to hoist the man to safety in the nick of time.
While this is definitely a rare situation, the truth is that every day, aircraft and airports across our state are used to carry out emergency medical, fire fighting and disaster relief operations. Rapid City Regional Airport is home to a slurry-tanker base, where the U.S. Forest Service monitors and responds to wildfires across five states. The South Dakota Wing of the Civil Air Patrol, also based at the Rapid City Regional Airport, assists in a wide variety of natural disaster relief and Homeland Security efforts and also educates young people about aviation. In addition, the South Dakota National Guard Detachment 48 Operational Support Airlift is based at the airport, which assisted in the recovery efforts in response to flooding in Pierre last year. The truth is that throughout our state and the nation as a whole, the adaptability of general aviation makes it an excellent resource to organizations that perform critical public safety functions.
In the same way that general aviation allows communities to connect to critical services, these aircraft and airports help local businesses and the communities that depend on them to expand to new markets, serve customers and support local jobs. For example, Fugro Horizons, an aerial photography and mapping company, is based at Rapid City Regional Airport, and through the use of 12 aircraft, uses the latest technology in optical sensing to provide geospatial information to clients. In addition, the aerial application of crop protection products is extremely important to our local economy and our national food supply.
In fact, 85 percent of the companies that own and operate general aviation aircraft are small- to mid-sized businesses which use these aircraft to visit multiple locations in a single day, travel to locations with limited access to commercial aviation and carry tools and demonstration materials that could not be transported commercially. All told, in South Dakota, the general aviation industry accounts for $303 million of economic activity annually, and the aerospace and aviation sectors support 1,846 jobs. Across the country, the general aviation industry has an economic impact of $150 billion per year and supports 1.2 million jobs.
Despite the enormous benefits of general aviation to our communities, the industry still faces many challenges. The economic downturn has deeply affected the industry, and the president’s recently released budget includes a $100-per-flight “user fee” tax that would devastate the general aviation industry.
Fortunately, Gov. Dennis Daugaard recently sent a letter to President Obama outlining the critical importance of general aviation in South Dakota and throughout the country. With this step, Daugaard joins a growing number of elected officials in acknowledging the critical importance of our national infrastructure and air transportation system.
Bert Corwin of Rapid City is the former president of the Rapid City Airport Board and a member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America.