Local Pilots Harmed By Proposed Tax Break
July 29, 2009
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  • Neil Hise

    August 23, 2007

    In a time that is defined by constant contact and instant access, we may not realize that one phone call can change someone’s life. Relatives, friends and those “darn” telemarketers are all able to contact us often whether we want them to or not and the power of this connection is very often taken for granted.

    Pilots of Angel Flight know exactly how important one phone call can be. That call can mean the difference between a person getting a life-saving procedure or going back on a seemingly endless list of names waiting for the same procedure.

    When a patient requires urgent medical treatment, one of Angel Flight’s volunteer pilots is ready to fly the patient wherever he or she must go. Pilots like me have served Angel Flight’s charitable work here in New Mexico and other pilots across America using general aviation aircraft.

    As a New Mexico business owner, most of my time is spent running my company. But at the same time, I remain close to the phone or computer in case I am able to assist in improving or even saving someone’s life as an Angel Flight volunteer.

    My plane is also invaluable as a time machine for my small business, CEMCO Inc. We use the skies to connect with customers, and promote our services to new areas and new customers. Instead of using ground transportation, which can cost us precious time, our airplane allows us to remain competitive.

    The entrepreneurship and needs that drive each of our businesses are well served with an aircraft. We are always balancing our employees, business profits and other survival needs with the need to pay for fuel, maintenance and taxes that come with the privilege of owning a plane.

    These aircraft ownership costs will skyrocket very soon if the major airlines have their way. Even as you read this column, the airline companies’ lobbyists are using their loud voices in Congress to try and push through a bill that would force their tax obligations onto general aviation and business owners and pilots.

    A new bill issued recently by the Senate Commerce Committee, S 1300, calls for a drastic overhaul of the current funding structure and a slew of new taxes and fees to be paid by operators of general aviation aircraft like mine.

    In addition to these new charges, the proposal also plans to more than double the fuel tax on our small planes, from $21 cents a gallon to 49 cents a gallon. While the proposal includes this tax hike for pilots like me, it could completely eliminate the fuel tax for commercial airlines giving them another massive tax break again after untold billions in bailouts and benefits already provided in the last decade.

    These new taxes will not fall only on the shoulders of pilots and aircraft owners, but on the citizens of New Mexico and rural America, who rely on general aviation. I currently employ 40 workers at my manufacturing business. We use our plane to provide excellent service to our customers and distributors throughout New Mexico, the United States, and beyond.

    If these taxes are put into effect, we may find it too costly to use our aircraft to serve our customers and as a result, business will decline. The global marketplace demands timely products and services, and small planes give American businesses an advantage over competitors in countries that do not have general aviation. Loss of a business advantage due to the new user fees may lead to less business and reduced employment for my company.

    Businesses give back to local and regional communities; Angel Flight pilots donate time and equipment to help those in need. A devastating effect of these proposed new taxes in S 1300 will be the loss to the people who rely on our charity work. Those patients who rely on organizations like Angel Flight and other giving organizations will see the number of available pilots drop substantially. With the money for these life-saving flights coming from our own pockets, Angel Flight volunteers will simply be unable to afford to fly as frequently, if at all.

    Very soon, the Senate Finance Committee will draft its own version of a FAA funding bill. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has drafted an equitable plan to fund the FAA without the use of user fees. If the overhaul is supported in the Finance Committee’s bill, we fear that general aviation will be one step closer to being grounded.

    Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, who is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, has a critical opportunity to preserve this important industry in our state as well as keep Angel Flight flying high. Whether it’s a small business tool or a way to save a life, aviation strengthens our economy and supports our citizens. We cannot risk taxing these pilots out of the sky in order to give the airline companies an undeserved tax break.

    Hise is the owner of Belen-based manufacturing firm CEMCO Inc. He is also a pilot and a member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America, which has more than 3,500 members nationwide.

    Date: 2007-08-23