Here in Louisiana, we like to believe that our communities are all about helping our friends and neighbors. That’s why my organization helps Amy, a woman from Monroe suffering from late-stage breast cancer, who must travel to Houston every week to receive chemotherapy. In addition, because of fractures in her back, she is not able to make the five-hour car ride it would take to get there.
Pilots for Patients, based here in Monroe, organizes pilots who are willing to volunteer their time and money to fly patients to the medical care they need. For the last six years, we have been flying Amy and other patients to treatments they need on a regular basis with our aircraft.
Since we formed, we have flown about 1,870 flights, all free of charge for the patient, and with 90 active volunteer pilots, we are ready to serve more.
The truth is that unless one owns their own aircraft or depends on it for emergency response, specialized medical care or a variety of important services, most people aren’t aware of how much of an integral part these aircraft are in terms of delivering services and protecting our public safety, daily life and infrastructure.
For emergency medical responders, firefighters, law enforcement, fish and wildlife authorities, search and rescue teams, not to mention the countless charitable organizations like mine, general aviation makes it possible to perform a variety of specialized functions that would otherwise be unmanageable.
In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and Hurricane Katrina, general aviation helped to track the movement of the oil for the most effective coordinated response.
General aviation and our local airports are also crucial for business and commerce. Offshore oil platforms rely on helicopters to move material and personnel on and off the platform, as do remote construction projects such as power lines and pipeline.
In addition, businesses of all types, of all sizes, rely on general aviation to more productively meet their travel needs and interact with other businesses and customers. Especially in rural and isolated parts of our state, general aviation provides the access to the broader marketplace that companies in larger cities take for granted.
For example, my business, Precision Paper & Board ships paper products to 22 states. I use my aircraft to travel to visit clients and reach far-off markets. I am able to meet with multiple clients in multiple states, minimizing my time away from home.
Despite the benefits and the diversity of general aviation, some in Washington still don’t understand what a lifeline and benefit general aviation is for businesses and communities around our state. For example, a proposed $100-per-flight user fee which was included in President Obama’s recent budget would not only heap new taxes onto farms and businesses that are already struggling to recover from the economic downturn, but these new taxes would also decimate operators in bureaucracy as they struggle to keep up with these fees upon fees.
The system in place now is a pay-at-the-pump system — it is simple, efficient and proportionate to use.
Fortunately many of our leaders in Louisiana understand the vital importance of this industry and form of infrastructure. Gov. Bobby Jindal recently declared March to be “Aviation Appreciation Month” in Louisiana. In addition, Congressman Jeff Landry and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., are members of the General Aviation Caucus.
We applaud these efforts, and encourage all of our leaders to help educate the public and other lawmakers about the crucial importance of aviation, and general aviation in particular, to our national and local economy.
Editor’s Note: Philip Thomas is the president of Pilots for Patients, president of Precision Paper & Board and a member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America.