A Higher Vantage Point: Protect General Aviation in Colorado
November 25, 2013
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  • Keeping track of over 300 head of cattle isn’t easy. Every week, I go through all 6,000 acres to make sure all our cattle are accounted for, in their proper pastures, and in healthy shape, while making sure the fields and equipment are in good condition. Doing this by truck would turn it into an all-day task, preventing me from being able to tend to my many other responsibilities as ranch manager of Bayless Ranches. By flying my Piper Super Cub, however, this is accomplished in a matter of hours.

    I have been working at Bayless Ranches in Cortez for over 20 years. I admit a cattle ranch is not a typical place where one would think it is useful to have an aircraft. After flying for 41 years though, I can attest that having my own plane is invaluable for productivity and efficiency in caring for our cattle. By being able to quickly fly over our fields and notice if any of the livestock are sick or if any fences are significantly damaged, we are able to react before the ranch suffers significant losses.

    The use of general aviation in an agricultural or business application is certainly not unique. Thousands of businesses of all sizes make use of small aircraft to increase productivity, survey land, deliver supplies, visit with customers, and get to multiple meetings in different cities on the same day, even in rural parts of the country where access to commercial flights is limited. All told, general aviation creates $150 billion in economic impact each year across the country and supports more than 1.2 million American jobs. In Colorado, general aviation is a $1.9 billion industry, supporting more than 22,000 jobs.

    But the value of general aviation goes far beyond what the numbers can show. Life-saving emergency services rely on general aviation every day. Law enforcement, emergency medical responders, firefighters, and search and rescue use small aircraft to provide critical services. As I routinely fly, I am able to notify the state park manager if there are any wildfires near our ranch, and assist with putting them out if necessary. Those who live in this part of the country know how big of a problem this can be over the summer. This past summer has been especially bad in Colorado, but general aviation has helped to alleviate that. Especially here, general aviation saves lives and property.

    But despite the overwhelming benefits of general aviation, some in the nation’s capital don’t seem to get it. Rather than promote general aviation and ensure that its potential is met, some politicians see it as an easy target. By painting it with too broad of a brush and singling it out for unfair and harmful tax increases, they do a disservice to me and countless other hard-working Americans.

    Fortunately, our lawmakers in Colorado do get it. Gov. John Hickenlooper recently declared July to be “General Aviation Appreciation Month” in Colorado. Congressman Mike Coffman, Congressman Cory Gardner and Congressman Scott Tipton are members of the General Aviation Caucus, which works to protect general aviation for people like me. Mayor Dan Porter of Cortez, Mayor Val Truelsen of Dolores, Mayor Michelle Black of Mancos and Councilman Tim Leigh of Colorado Springs have joined a petition to President Obama, along with other local elected officials across the country, to oppose harmful new taxes for the industry. Hopefully, with the help of those who understand the value of general aviation, we can work to protect it.

    Milton Lewis is the managing rancher at Bayless Ranches and a member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America.