As an the owner of a small business and the operator of a flight school here in Bluefield, West Virginia, I have seen the impact that general aviation has on our community and around our state.
I had always wanted to learn to fly. After I got my own pilot’s license in 2013, I opened a flight school to help more people get up in the air.
Lots of different kinds of people come through my school, from railroaders to coal miners to the owner of a small lawn and garden company. We are also working to get kids interested in and involved in aviation. There is a growing demand for pilots, and it’s important to get our young people in the pipeline for inspiring careers in aviation.
While my business involves helping others learn to fly, aviation also serves me in other ways. The mountainous landscape of Southern West Virginia means that it often takes a lot of time to get places in a car, and time spent driving to and from meetings was time I couldn’t use to get other work done. Flying allows me to turn what would be a six-hour drive into an hour flight, or a two-day trip into an afternoon.
And my business is far from alone — general aviation helps businesses of all sizes increase productivity and stay competitive.
In West Virginia alone, general aviation supports 5,300 jobs and contributes over $1 billion annually to the state’s total economic output.
In addition to economic impact, general aviation provides a lifeline to communities by facilitating services like firefighting, disaster relief and medical care. Mercer County Airport, where my school is based, served as a fueling station and temporary base for helicopters from Appalachian Power this year and helped them service power lines in our area.
Unfortunately, there are many people who still do not realize what an important lifeline these airports and aircraft are to small businesses and communities. Some on Capitol Hill are pushing a proposal that would privatize our national air traffic control system and impose harmful new taxes and user fees. This proposal would likely concentrate power, funding and access around only the biggest, commercial airports. And with new user fees, many small businesses like mine would get hurt.
General aviation and local airports are vital to West Virginia’s economy, help support critical services to our communities and open the door to great careers. Let’s make sure we continue to support and protect this important lifeline to businesses and communities of all sizes.
Jason Howerton owns Paramount Aviation, in Bluefield.