Local Airports: Giving Access to Rural America
November 10, 2013
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  • Living in a town that is 100 miles away from the nearest railroad or interstate highway has its challenges. It can be difficult for businesses to operate and residents to access the critical services they need. Natural gas companies that operate in Pinedale send workers from as far away as Canada on a regular basis to urgently meet changing personnel needs. The nearest trauma center is 150 miles away. But fortunately for us, we have access to general aviation and a local airport that keeps us connected.

    Businesses large and small use general aviation to connect in an increasingly global economy. For rural communities like Pinedale, where other transportation options are limited, access to a community airport means being able to get to customers and suppliers in far-off markets, allows companies to deliver parts, and allows our agricultural operators to manage cattle, crops and land. Overall, general aviation supports more than $101 million of our state’s economic activity every year, and supports more than 14,000 jobs.

    One industry that is a great example of this in the Green River Valley is natural gas companies. Gas companies have used the Pinedale Airport to bring in geologists to perform studies, and engineers and technical experts to ensure the safe extraction of natural gas. Our local airports and small aircraft support aerial photography and surveying, and help our workers to reach pipelines. This development, aided by general aviation, has helped to dramatically boost the Sublette and Teton counties. The many great opportunities for outdoor activities in Pinedale and the surrounding area also draw visitors that come through the airport, supporting tourism and hospitality jobs in our town.

    Emergency responders, medical personnel, law enforcement and fire fighters use general aviation to react quickly to changing conditions and gain access to areas they otherwise could not. Every summer, air tankers lead the efforts to contain wildfires by covering large swaths of land in a single pass, while smoke jumpers parachute from airplanes for more targeted firefighting. Both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft are used to transport those needing urgent medical attention to hospitals in Casper, Idaho Falls, or Pocatello.

    Unlike urban areas, for us, aircraft support our way of life and critical services, and that’s why it never works when some lawmakers in Washington, D.C. who don’t understand our community try to write laws that will harm our communities. One example of this is the ongoing rhetoric and proposed new taxes that some in Washington have proposed on the businesses and farms that depend on general aviation, including a $100-per-flight user fee that would severely limit the businesses and services that rely on general aviation.

    Fortunately, Wyoming lawmakers understand the importance of general aviation. Earlier this year, Gov. Matt Mead declared June “General Aviation Appreciation Month.” In addition, Rep. Cynthia Lummis is a member of the general aviation caucus, which is working to raise awareness about general aviation and community airports. I recently joined a petition to President Obama, along with 160 other mayors from across the country, to urge him to support small towns by opposing user fees. By working together, I hope we can continue to protect this critical lifeline that is such an important part of our way of life here in Wyoming.

    Stephen Smith is the mayor of Pinedale, Wyoming, and a member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America.