User fees threaten general aviation necessary for business, emergencies

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 5, 2013 

In the Pacific northwest, earthquakes are a real danger. In fact, there is a general consensus within the scientific community that a major earthquake is inevitable at some point in the next 100 years or so. This begs the question, what happens if a catastrophic earthquake makes roads and even runways unusable throughout the Puget Sound area. The emergency seaplane response plan makes use of seaplanes and waterways such as lakes, rivers or beaches throughout the area to move injured people to prearranged locations in eastern Washington and bring in supplies on return trips. A group of volunteer seaplane pilots from Washington Seaplane Pilots Association and other community members from Sudden Valley recently gathered to prepare and simulate possible scenarios with help from the local fire department and EMTs, and other partners, including Kenmore Air. The plan is getting the attention of Washington State Department of Transportation, FEMA and individuals from the Washington State Guard, which are helping to further support these efforts by giving guidance in the development process.

As northwest eeaplane regional coordinator of the Emergency Volunteer Air Corps, called EVAC, the group that coordinates these simulations, I am grateful not only for the increased focus on preparedness that has resulted from these exercises, but also the increased focus on the critical importance of general aviation and local airports in facilitating public safety as a whole. Often in natural disaster situations, the first order of business is to set up a command center at a community airport to utilize the logistical advantages they can provide. This makes bringing in food, water, medical supplies and volunteers, and evacuating injured people, as efficient as possible. On a much more routine basis, general aviation assists law enforcement, emergency medical responders, port and border security, firefighters, search and rescue, fish and wildlife protection and many others.

In addition to public safety, small aircraft play a vital role in the private sector because of their unmatched capabilities to transport people and goods quickly and efficiently. Businesses of all sizes throughout Washington utilize general aviation to maximize productivity, and in fact, studies from NEXA Advisors have shown that the ones that do, do much better than those that do not. These companies use general aviation to travel to different branches, meet with customers or suppliers, or deliver goods, often making multiple stops in a single day.

Take Kenmore Air, which has been involved in the emergency seaplane response plan from the beginning. It is a company that provides both scheduled and charter seaplane flights across the state, as well as many other general aviation services such as aircraft sales and maintenance and flight instruction. Kenmore Air has carved out a niche by becoming a form of transportation that many people throughout the Pacific northwest depend on to get to remote communities and outdoor destinations around the Puget Sound.

While we here in Washington certainly understand the crucial importance of seaplanes, small aircraft and our aerospace sector as a whole, unfortunately, some in Washington, D.C., still do not. For example, the administration has recently proposed a $100-per-flight user fee tax on all takeoffs and landings for turbine aircraft, which would severely constrict the operations of general aviation, thus causing a ripple effect through communities and impacting the many benefits it provides.

Fortunately, Washington's governor, Jay Inslee, recently declared June General Aviation Appreciation Month, demonstrating his commitment to help raise awareness about the importance of our state's network of airports and aircraft. In addition, Congressman Rick Larsen, Congresswoman Susan DelBene, Congressman Adam Smith, Congressman Derek Kilmer and Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler are members of the House General Aviation Caucus in Congress. We appreciate all of their support and are hopeful that Washington's entire congressional delegation will stand together against user fees and protect this valuable industry.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sky Terry lives in Sudden Valley and is the northwest seaplane regional coordinator of the Emergency Volunteer Air Corps and a member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America.

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