Column: Keep Aviation Public
April 30, 2017
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  • On average, 550,000 patients are flown by air EMS to critical medical care every year. General aviation provides this life-saving service, shortening travel time to emergency care and ensuring patients can get to specialists. But air ambulances are just the most visible way that aviation supports medicine. As an M.D. and flight surgeon with Air Docs, I spend every day working to strengthen this important, but sometimes unnoticed, lifeline.

    I’m a businessman who relies on general aviation.

    I live in Saginaw and commute to Battle Creek in my Piper Cherokee — straight to the WMU College of Aviation in Battle Creek. In perfect conditions, the drive is over two hours. Since perfect conditions don’t happen to much in Michigan, a 45-minute flight saves time and hassle. Without general aviation, my day would be much less efficient.

    I teach aviation physiology classes and one aspect of that is our hypoxia training. A lower amount of oxygen at high altitudes can put pilots and flight crews at risk. We train our students and private clients in our High-Altitude Lab to recognize the signs and symptoms of hypoxia through simulated experience. I’m proud that we can use this state-of-the-art technology to ensure future aviators have the best training and safety awareness.

    General aviation doesn’t just support patients in emergencies. Often a patient will need to travel some distance to reach a specific specialist, especially if they live in a rural area. Aviation charities like Angel Flight and Wings of Mercy use volunteer pilots to help fly patients in need. If these patients need a medical professional to accompany them in transit, Air Docs can be there, ensuring the patient feels confident and comfortable throughout their journey.

    And, many businesses rely on general aviation to transport employees, supplies and goods more efficiently and reach new customers. In Michigan, general aviation contributes over $4 billion to the state’s economy each year. In my opinion, the U.S. is the best business environment in the world and I believe our aviation system plays a huge role in that.

    Aside from medical services, general aviation supports several quality of life services like law enforcement, search and rescue, news reporting and firefighting. It touches so many aspects of our lives, but not many people realize what a critical tool it is.

    Proposals being pushed by big commercial airlines in D.C. to privatize our air traffic control system and take it away from the FAA are concerning. They want to remove congressional oversight and give the incredible asset of our aviation system to a private board controlled by the commercial airlines. This board would have the power to make decisions about the costs of the system, who has access to what airports, and even what airports remain open. That just doesn’t sit right with me. So many people and communities in Michigan rely on aviation. We shouldn’t privatize air traffic control and jeopardize this critical resource.

    Greg Pinnell, M.D. is the founder and flight surgeon for Air Docs, an adjunct professor at Western Michigan College of Aviation, and a senior flight surgeon at the Air Force’s 45thSpace Wing.