The writer is the president and CEO of the South Albany Airport Corp. and the airport manager.
Every day, while most of us sleep and go to work, our law enforcement personnel carry out activities on the ground and in the sky to keep criminals off the streets, search for missing persons, carry injured patients to life-saving treatments and assist in firefighting efforts.
Unfortunately, most of us do not realize how important these operations are until we are directly affected by emergency ourselves. But here at South Albany Airport in Selkirk, the Aviation Unit of the State Police, pilots practice day and nighttime approaches and maneuvers to ensure the safety of the public, as well as the safety of the officers. Law enforcement aircraft are invaluable in safely resolving high-speed chases, locating missing persons, providing real-time information about potential dangers to officers where there are fences or other visual obstructions.
The Army National Guard also utilizes South Albany Airport for the purpose of honing the ever-so-important pilot skills in both day and night operations. Black Hawk helicopters serve a great purpose in the military. Black Hawks have assisted in combat in Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas in the Middle East. They also prepare for natural disasters and other events as well as keep our country safe and secure.
LifeNet, owned and operated by Air Methods, the world’s largest air ambulance company, visits the airport frequently for refueling after transporting medical patients and medical emergency victims to the Albany Medical Center Hospital.
These benefits do not stop there. South Albany Airport enables nonprofit organizations such as Angel Flight to provide free flights to patents, especially children and veterans receiving specialized care where other modes of transportation are not an option, and deliver desperately needed organ and blood donations with speed and reliability. Because of its proximity to nearby hospitals and trauma centers like Albany Medical Center and Westchester General, small aircraft help to ensure the patients are getting the immediate care they require. All of this comes together by the very generous pilots that not only offer their plane, fuel and time but a heart full of dedication to help those in need.
The same advantages that make general aviation and local airports for emergency services and public safety also make it an attractive business tool. South Albany Airport has been an FAA registered airport since 1947 beginning as a grass strip on a farm. Since then the airport has grown and presently there are now 43 based privately owned airplanes (four twin engine and 39 single engine). Many recent improvements have been made including a parallel taxiway, ramp area expansion, a 10-unit shade hangar and a recently built maintenance hangar. Services provided are 100 LL gas and Jet-A fuel. Aircraft hangar and tie-downs are also provided.
General aviation enables our local economies, both big and small, to grow by providing businesses an efficient way of moving people and goods where they need them. In fact, in total, general aviation accounts for $150 billion in economic activity across the country each year, supporting 1.2 million jobs. In New York, it creates over $9.2 billion in economic impact and supports over 347,000 jobs. South Albany Airport alone generates $1.1 million a year in economic impact for the local community, and is continuing to grow with new hangers and expansions in the works.
While general aviation is relied upon in thousands of communities across the country, for everything from saving lives to enabling job-creating opportunities, many lawmakers and the general public are still not fully aware of all of its benefits. For example, the president proposed implementing a “user fee” tax as part of his budget proposal for 2013. This tax would act as a toll every time a general aviation aircraft takes to the air — regardless of its size or cargo. This tax would hit small- and medium-sized businesses the worst, helping to eliminate the benefits general aviation brings to them just as they are beginning to recover from the recession, not to mention the financial toll on those who volunteer their time and effort for charitable flights. In addition, this tax would also place a cumbersome administrative burden on small businesses and organizations that use general aviation, and would require a whole new bureaucracy in the FAA to administer these new fees and taxes.
Albany, New York and the entire country have benefited greatly from general aviation and our local airports. For all of us in Upstate and rural New York, it provides a literal lifeline that connects communities that may otherwise not have air service with commerce, medical care and a broad range of services and resources. Gov. Andrew Cuomo even recognized the contributions of this industry recently by proclaiming the month of May “Aviation Appreciation Month.” In doing this, he has highlighted the vital importance of aviation and general aviation in New York. General aviation should be valued and supported in New York and across the county.