When I first got my pilot’s license 22 years ago, I knew flying would be an important part of my life. What I didn’t realize was that general aviation would touch so many aspects of my life – from supporting my business and family farm, to helping me to give back to my community through charitable flying. It just illustrates to what extent general aviation is a diverse tool that is connects so many patients, businesses and communities.
In the insurance industry, you don’t have advance notice of when your clients will need you most. My company, Sprague-Killeen, couldn’t rely on booking outrageously expensive last-minute commercial flights to provide our customers the in-person service and support they need. That’s why we use business aviation to fly employees to clients and educational seminars across the country. We can fly from Ellenville to Dallas, Tx. for a meeting and be back the same day. This gives our business a competitive advantage that we couldn’t have otherwise.
I grew up on my family’s farm and still use the plane to help support it. My family has a herd of heritage cattle, unique breeds dating back to the settlement of the US. Not only do we use the aircraft to monitor our land and cattle, but if any of the cattle are injured or become ill, they need immediate care from a specialized veterinarian. In emergencies, I’ll fly to Seneca Falls and bring the vet back to Grahamsville rather than driving 3.5 hours each way.
I am not alone. General aviation also has a significant impact in New York, supporting 37,800 jobs and an economic output of over $7 billion. New York also has robust aviation education programs across the state, training the next generation of pilots, mechanics, airport managers, and aviation support personnel – and, it plays a critical role in supporting emergency services, medical care, firefighting, law enforcement, and charitable medical flying.
As an example, as a long-standing pilot with Angel Flight East, one teenager I flew several times had a serious stomach disorder that required life-saving treatment from a research hospital in Baltimore. He needed to get from Hamilton, N.Y. to Baltimore regularly, but his condition prevented him from traveling for more than 2 hours at a time. His medical equipment and time limitations meant he couldn’t fly commercial airlines. Using general aviation and flying into smaller airports meant that we could get him to the critical care he needed.
Some people in DC, however, continue to push proposals to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system. The biggest problem with this proposal is that it is Congressional oversight of our public aviation system that protects all of these critical services and use of small airports and aircraft, along with routes to small and mid-sized communities. Our public air transportation system supports so many different aspects of our communities and lives. Let’s keep it that way.
Dwight Coombe is the owner and President of Sprague-Killeen, a volunteer pilot for over 22 years, and a member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America.