Here in North Dakota, simply traveling from town to town is very time-consuming. Distances are long here, and while those long stretches of highway provide plenty of business for my paving company, it also means managing different jobsites takes time. Additionally, we have a short work season and work throughout the region on jobs in North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota and Minnesota, which adds even greater distance.
Fortunately, my company has its own small aircraft that makes getting to multiple places quickly a lot easier. At least once a week I fly to our jobsites to meet with engineers, inspect progress, bring critical parts that would otherwise hold up work, or bid on new projects.
Recently, after a lightning strike, our asphalt plant in Redshirt, S.D., near the Black Hills, was out of commission. I flew to the plant through the night with our mechanic, and specialized tools and parts, to minimize plant downtime in the morning. The unmatched versatility of general aviation allowed us to get the plant operational without losing the next workday.
I am not alone. General aviation in North Dakota alone represents $856 million in total economic output, and airports in the state support more than 12,000 jobs. It also makes a considerable difference in the lives and communities of North Dakota. I volunteer with Angel Flight, which provides flights to patients to receive specialized medical care in other regions of the country at no cost. I also volunteer with LightHawk, which lends aerial support to conservation efforts. During the 2014 saltwater pipeline spill near Bear Den Bay, I took a Ph.D. student from the University of North Dakota to document the extent of damage, particularly to MHA Nation.
But on the other side of the country, some interests are pressuring Congress to privatize the air traffic control system. They’ve proposed removing congressional oversight of our aviation system and giving control to a private board.
While this all sounds well enough, the biggest commercial interests — the same ones that have already cut service to towns by 20 percent — would be running or air traffic control system. You can imagine where this will leave small businesses, airports and rural communities — last.
We should be investing in our communities and small businesses, and more in our national aviation infrastructure. Let’s ensure that our aviation system continues to serve communities of all sizes, not big commercial interests.