As a small business owner, I travel all over the southwest to consult with clients and service radar and radio equipment. I spend a lot of time on the road, in remote areas and at military testing grounds. Flying commercial just wasn’t a good option. For example, I often flew from Tucson, where I live, to the Albuquerque area, where many of my clients are. The trip took six hours on a good day and I had to make a connecting flight in Las Vegas.
I needed a better way to get where I needed to be, so about 10 years ago, I got my pilot’s license. Now I can fly to Albuquerque in an hour and a half in my home-built two-seater aircraft. What used to be a long, two-day trip is now just one day. And because there are so many general aviation airports, I can fly directly into many of the smaller communities I serve. Using my own aircraft just makes sense, and it makes my business travel much more productive.
I’m definitely not the only one. For a lot of businesses in our region and across the country, general aviation helps us reach job sites and allows us to increase productivity and stay competitive. In Arizona alone, general aviation supports about 6,800 jobs and an estimated $609 million in economic activity annually. It also provides access to vital – sometimes life-saving – services in our communities. Law enforcement, emergency medical responders, firefighters, search and rescue, and border patrol teams all rely on general aviation. As of late, the GA community has even partnered with the USFS in Arizona in providing volunteers for several projects near backcountry airstrips.
Sadly, some people, including politicians, don’t seem to understand how important general aviation really is. Some in Congress are pushing to radically change our national air traffic control system and hand it over to a private board. While it’s not clear how much this drastic change would cost, it is clear that the system would be funded by harmful user fees. These new fees would disproportionately affect small businesses that rely on general aviation and impact access to airports and services in rural communities.
Fortunately, many local and state officials do recognize the vital importance of general aviation for Arizona and the nation. The state legislature recently passed a resolution and recognized September as “General Aviation Appreciation Month.” Let’s build on this success and make sure our aviation system will continue to serve businesses communities of all sizes well into the future.
Editor’s note: Mr. Spencer is the Arizona state liaison for the Recreational Aviation Foundation, vice president of the Arizona Pilots Association and a member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America.