We all know that Texas is large, but even as a lifelong Texan, I’m still constantly in awe of the expansiveness and diversity of our state.
Texas is bigger than more than 35 European counties and our more than 3,000 cities and towns are spread across 260,000 square miles. For those of us living in rural towns, the distance that makes Texas great also often represents the biggest challenge.
I live in Pecos, more than 200 miles from the closest metropolitan area. When I worked in the dairy industry, supporting my family’s farm, travel was a large part of my job. Without general aviation, I had to take two days away from the farm anytime I had a meeting in another city.
Being in a remote area means that you do not have the same services as far as equipment sales and repair. Sometimes just to get a piece of equipment, my only option was to fly to the seller to inspect it myself. Even getting replacement parts sometimes means flying 150 miles.
Now that I have had the chance to expand into different industries, my plane has become a critical tool. I sell caliche as road base and fill to construction companies, provide fresh water for fracking to oil companies in the area, and lease property for equipment yards and housing projects. All my businesses require flexibility and mobility to development relationships with customers and business partners, no matter where they are.
For example, I once had a day’s notice to get to a time-sensitive meeting in Lubbock with a construction company about a new contract. Without buying an expensive last-minute ticket, I flew several hours there, and got home the same day. Without general aviation, I would have lost that business opportunity.
I truly believe that general aviation shrinks the world and brings opportunities and economic development to communities such as mine that we otherwise would miss. We don’t have any commercial airline service in Pecos, so businesses depend on access through general aviation. Several companies fly their employees into town, for example, increasing traffic at the airport and bringing investment into local services.
General aviation isn’t just important for economic development; it is a literal lifeline to rural communities in Texas. It ensures we can access emergency and specialized health care, especially since several major hospitals throughout rural Texas have closed in the last 10 years.
Law enforcement, search and rescue, and Border Patrol also rely on general aviation to cover longer distances and oversee teams on the ground. Even our farms rely on agricultural aviation to increase yields and protect crops from pests and disease.
It’s because general aviation is so integral to rural life that I am worried about a Washington proposal to privatize our air traffic control system and hand oversight over this system to a private board that would make decisions about who has access, how much consumers and other operators are taxed, and what airports are invested in.
Right now rural America, and the air transportation network that supports it, ensure that thousands of local communities, businesses and economies throughout our state and country, stay connected and thriving. Let’s make sure to keep it that way.
Greg Mitchel is a businessman and general aviation pilot, and serves on the board of Pecos Municipal Airport.