Arkansas is the leading producer of rice in the country, growing more than three times as much as any other state. In total, rice production contributes more than $1.8 billion to the economy of Arkansas. Because rice is grown in standing water, use of traditional ground-based farm equipment can sink in the mud, get stuck, and even damage the crop for most of the growing season. Even when it is an option early in the season, ground equipment is inefficient and costly. The preferred method of protecting the rice fields is from the air, relying on skilled pilots to spread fertilizer and crop protection products, as it is quicker and more cost-effective. So much so that 70 to 80 percent of these products are applied by aircraft.
As a result, while most people do not see how agriculture is integrally tied to aviation, it is in more ways than many realize. In the United States, aerial application is utilized to treat roughly 71 million acres of cropland every year, accounting for 25 percent of commercially-applied crop protection products. In addition, many other types of businesses rely on these small airplanes. All told, general aviation accounts for $150 billion dollars in economic activity each year and supports more than 1.2 million jobs. In Arkansas, general aviation contributes nearly $500 million to the state’s economy and supports 5,400 jobs. Workers that need to travel to meet with customers or suppliers, attend industry conferences, and transport equipment use general aviation to get directly to where they need to go in a timely matter. In addition, general aviation can perform functions that would just not be possible otherwise, such as repairing power lines, aerial surveying and access to remote areas.
The benefits of general aviation go far beyond the business world. Emergency responders rely on the quick response time, versatility and aerial perspective that small aircraft provide. Law enforcement, firefighters, emergency medical responders, search and rescue, and fish and wildlife management rely on general aviation on a daily basis.
But despite the vast benefits of general aviation, some inside the beltway still do not necessarily understand the value of this important lifeline and have called for new fees and taxes that would unfairly target these aircraft and harm the businesses and service providers that rely on them. The same crop dusters that make the Arkansas rice production the economic powerhouse it is would be paying in excess of $100,000 a year for a single airplane operation. That’s in addition to all other existing operating costs.
Fortunately for us, our leaders do understand just how important of a resource general aviation and community airports are. Governor Mike Beebe recently declared August “General Aviation Appreciation Month.” In addition, Mayor Bob McCaslin of Bentonville, Mayor Stewart Nelson of Morrilton, Mayor Marianne Maynard and Mayor Rick Elumbaugh of Batesville have all issued proclamations or written letters recognizing the value of this important lifeline, and I am very proud that Senators John Boozman and Mark Pryor, as well as Congressman Tim Griffin, are members of the General Aviation Caucus, which works to protect general aviation. With their leadership, we can encourage politicians in Washington, DC to protect this important lifeline which helps to serve as an economic engine to our communities in Arkansas and around the country.