Most people in Massachusetts might not think much about the planes or helicopters that often fly by above their heads. If you have flown out of Logan or Springfield, you know the importance of commercial aviation, but for me, when I see a small aircraft, I think of a farm and potential crop management, power lines getting fixed after a storm, a small business getting off to a small or far-off market, a young pilot learning to fly.
I started flying when I was 15 — in fact, I got my pilot’s license before my driver’s license. My passion for flying lead me to a career in photogrammetric mapping. My company, Col-East, uses our plane to take detailed aerial photographs of the ground, which we then use to create highly accurate topographical maps for our clients. These maps are used by real estate and commercial builders to better chart new developments. We work with state and local government to map infrastructure projects that repair and improve our communities’ bridges and roads.
In addition, owning our own general aviation plane makes a significant difference in the productivity and efficiency of my company. We can fly right out of Harriman-and-West Airport on short notice. Because I am both the pilot and the mapper, I can control the quality and the timeliness of the product to ensure our customer has the best service.
My company isn’t alone — companies across Massachusetts use our vast network of 30 general aviation airports to help their businesses thrive. According to the 2014 Massachusetts Statewide Airport Economic Impact Study, general aviation airports in the state contribute over $516 million annually to the economic and support 4,466 local jobs. General aviation also supports critical services like medevac flights, law enforcement, and firefighting.
Aviation charities like Angel Flight Northeast use general aviation to support children and adults who need help reaching medical care or reducing travel time in a frail or difficult state. This year, a nine-year-old patient that Angel Flight served was diagnosed with a brain tumor and needed to travel to Boston for chemotherapy. Angel Flight Northeast connected her with volunteer pilots who flew her and her family from Martha’s Vineyard to Boston over 15 times this year.
I worry this may not always be the case. Some in Washington have proposed taking governance of our air traffic control system away from Congress and giving it to a private board. This board, dominated by big, industry interests, would be breath-taking in its scope, making key decisions about access, fees, and even airport investments. I’m particularly concerned about access to and investment in our small airports — the ones used by our civil air patrol, hospitals, blood centers, law enforcement, flight schools and small businesses.
Our air transportation system in the US is the busiest, the largest, and the most diverse in the world – it is also a public good that serves communities of all sizes. Let’s keep it that way.
Mark Thaisz is the president of Col-East Inc., an aerial photography and photogrammetric mapping business based in North Adams.