There are a lot of unique things about South Dakota — great skiing, hiking, camping, the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, great wineries and breweries — and the people. When we do things, we tend to take our time. Part of that is part and parcel to being a big, rural state. It takes a lot longer to get around, we get to know people, enjoy the scenery and our way of life.
But sometimes, of course, it makes sense to get things done quicker, and for that, airports and aircraft are a great resource to achieving that. With our thousands of acres of farmland, our 65 public airports and the fact that many of our local businesses and farms depend on smaller aircraft, also known as general aviation, provide an option for transportation that helps us make the most of our time.
These aircraft allow farmers to protect and monitor crops, they help us to repair power lines when we have tough weather, and they aid in law enforcement and disaster relief. Health care providers use general aviation to reach underserved communities and to transport people quickly in emergencies, sometimes saving lives.
Whether it’s crop and land management, health care, or disaster relief, as the mayors of communities large and small across this great state of ours, we can say definitively that the use of general aviation is a lifeline for our communities.
Aviation is also crucial economically. While many people may not think of aviation and transportation when it comes to economic development, these airports and aircraft contributes over $791 billion in state business sales annually and support 7,000 jobs. In recent years, general aviation in particular has become more important as many cities and towns have seen cuts in commercial service. Businesses and farms use general aviation to survey crops and transport tools and employees between multiple locations in one day.
The challenge is that many inside the beltway don’t understand the way of life and importance of aviation for a rural state like ours. For example, some big airline interests in Washington are now pushing to privatize our air traffic control system. While this may sound great in theory, we know where this type of effort which serves the big commercial interests first would leave businesses and communities like ours — last.
What would happen to funding of smaller airports? How about routes to smaller markets, which have already lost about 20 percent of their service? And, it seems that this push is part of a bigger plan by the commercial airlines to offset even more of their taxes. Already one airline CEO said they would like to use this plan to focus more of their resources in the Northeast.
It is for all these reasons that we have kept our aviation system as a public system, protecting communities and states of all sizes. And that is the way it needs to stay.
A lot of things in Washington, D.C., sound great in theory and soundbites, and this is definitely one of them. We hope that South Dakota’s delegation in Congress will stand up for communities of all sizes across our state and ensure that our aviation system stays as the important public benefit that it was designed to be.
— Jerry Toomey is the mayor of Mitchell, Paul Aylward is mayor of Huron, Steve Thorson is mayor of Watertown, Carl. A. Shaw is mayor of Edgemont, Marty Huether is mayor of Wall and Tim Reed is mayor of Brookings.