Nevada has one of the most industrious mining sectors in the nation. We rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the production of gold and silver. While the benefits of mining extend to the whole state, for rural communities, open-pit mines employ hundreds of people — from truck drivers to geological engineers — providing well-paying careers that benefit communities across the state.
Our town of Ely was born as a mining town, and Ely Airport plays an important role in supporting the nearby mines. Ely Airport provides a way for local businesses to connect to far-off markets, and when a part breaks — which happens up to three times a month — a replacement part is flown to our airport to be transported to the mine.
In addition, there is an oil field about 70 miles south of Ely. Once every two weeks, scientists and engineers fly into the airport and head to the oil field to test the systems, fields and pumps. When an essential part breaks down, it can threaten the production line. General aviation, however, is there to quickly deliver a replacement. For remote operations that depend on consistent results, general aviation is the fastest way to respond to a production crisis.
Smaller communities such as ours often also face challenges in receiving specialized medical care. There are more than 10 flights per week out of our airport to take patients to hospitals in other cities such as Reno, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Were it not for our airport, patients would have to drive hours to see a specialized doctor. And in the event of an emergency, our airport plays an important role in transporting people to trauma specialists.
Wildfires in Northern Nevada are also becoming increasingly common due to rising temperatures and drought. From the middle of May to the end of September, Ely Airport supports fixed-wing planes and helicopters, which are used by smokejumpers or firefighters who have the dangerous job of parachuting into remote areas to combat these wildfires. Until your life depends on it, most people don’t realize that general aviation and local airports are a literal lifeline to smaller communities throughout our state and nation.
There is no doubt that general aviation airports are vital to communities across Nevada and the people who live in them. With a statewide annual economic output of more than $1.1 billion, general aviation is an essential part of our economy. There are more than 5,000 public-use airports throughout the United States, and, without them, communities such as ours would struggle.
Our nation’s airport system is a vital piece of infrastructure, but its future is threatened. Special interests led by the big airlines have been pushing Congress to privatize the air traffic control system, despite the plan’s repeated rejection. Under that structure, a board of private stakeholders, with the airlines themselves at the helm, would call the shots. That would mean moving resources to reflect what’s in the best interests of the biggest airlines and hub airports in the largest cities, not communities such as ours.
Right now, Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration ensure that local airports and communities such as ours across the country remain connected as an important part of our national infrastructure. Let’s make sure to keep it that way.
Lance Gale is the airport manager for Ely Airport.