Aviation is something I was born into. My father purchased his first plane in 1947 and got his pilot license because my mother missed Columbus, Ohio. He’d rather spend an hour and a half in the air than drive for 12 hours. It was a passion he shared with the family and relied on when he was starting his business. I guess you could say that my father’s love of flying was passed down the family.
For me personally, when I owned a construction company I needed to be able to travel across the state in a short amount of time. In fact, one year I had about seven or eight buildings being constructed, including four schools, that required me to be on-site. If I was to drive to each of these sites, over mountains and up crooked roads, it’d take me about 7 hours. With my aircraft, I was able to fly to all four within an hour and a half.
And for small businesses across the state it is the same — general aviation serves as a vital tool for small businesses across the state and the country, especially in rural and remote regions where other transportation options are limited and time-consuming. For example, in our state, general aviation contributes over $1 billion to the state’s annual economy. In Clarksburg, the Bombardier plant just doubled in size and added 150 jobs over the last year.
Beyond the economic benefits of general aviation, the charitable and emergency services that helicopters and small planes provide cannot be understated. The mountainous terrain and winding roads can make it difficult to deliver goods across the state. When a disaster strikes, local airports serve as a vital lifeline that connect communities to the resources they need. It was just last year that severe storms wiped out nearly 1,500 homes and 125 businesses with damage to another 4,000 homes across the state. The general aviation community quickly responded, delivering 2,000 pounds of water, food, paper goods, shovels, and trash bags to our hardest hit communities. Without general aviation, something as small as a tree branch on the road could take hours to resolve when an aircraft can take care of it in minutes.
And as everyone in Fayette County knows, we are proud to provide a home to the Boy Scouts of America for their National Jamboree every four years when 40,000 Scouts come to The Summit. The Summit itself is not only a cultural point of pride for our state, but also an economic powerhouse that’s expected to inject $25.3 million into the local economy annually. What you may not know is that the Boy Scouts depend almost exclusively on charitable donations; it was my pleasure to fly photographers and charitable givers around the 10,600 acres of the site so they could appreciate the sheer scale of the whole site.
I am deeply concerned by legislation in Washington that would threaten general aviation and this lifeline for our local community. This new legislation would separate our air traffic control system from congressional oversight and place it under the control of a board of private interests, dominated by the commercial airlines. These are the same commercial airlines that have cut service all across West Virginia already, favoring larger hub airports. I have no doubt that should these airlines control our air space, access for small airports and aircraft across the country would suffer as they put their own interests before smaller communities.
As it stands, our aviation system gives everyone fair access. Let’s keep it that way and keep Congressional oversight in place.
(Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, represents the 6th District in the State Senate and is the former owner of Swope Construction.)