Henderson Gleaner, October 3, 2014

COMMENT: General aviation vital to American economy

Craig Fortenbery 

When I formed my company, Mainstream Commercial Divers Inc., over 25 years ago, we learned quickly that having our own airplane was integral to our success. Whether it was quickly getting to locations to perform emergency repairs, or delivering specialized equipment, our aircraft has helped us to quickly and effectively serve the many important infrastructure projects we are working on.
Just last November, an American Electric Power (AEP) hydroelectric dam in Virginia encountered an outage which weakened the energy output of the entire facility. Through the use of our company plane, we were able to get to Virginia quickly and immediately began work on finding a solution. After developing a recovery plan we flew back to our headquarters in Murray, Ky., and prepared the specialized equipment we would need for the job.

I am not alone. Across the country, many other businesses utilize general aviation in similar ways.
Businesses across the spectrum rely on general aviation to operate more efficiently, to reach far-off plants and suppliers, and to make better use of limited time and human resources. In fact, 85 percent of businesses that operate their own aircraft are small to mid-sized businesses and a recent study by NEXA Advisors found that small and medium enterprises that utilize general aviation perform better than ones that don't.

In total, general aviation accounts for over $1.7 billion in economic activity statewide each year. Across the country, general aviation is a $150 billion-a-year industry that supports 1.2 million American jobs. And, emergency medical responders, law enforcement, fire departments and other emergency services all use general aviation for some of the exact same operational advantages that my plane provides to my business. In the aftermath of natural disasters when roadways are blocked, power lines are down and critical supplies are needed, general aviation can bring in much needed supplies and medical assistance.

But far too many people underestimate the benefits that general aviation can provide to our communities. Consequentially, some in Washington have proposed adding a $100-per-flight user fee tax on the businesses and farms that use general aviation — a move that would hurt small businesses and farms significantly.

Fortunately, our elected officials in Kentucky seem to realize the value of general aviation as a tool to increase productivity and accessibility. Gov. Steve Beshear recently declared July to be "Aviation Appreciation Month." In addition, Reps. Brett Guthrie, Thomas Massie and Hal Rogers are members of the General Aviation Caucus, which works to protect general aviation. I applaud their efforts and I believe it is critical for everyone to realize just how important this form of transportation is to our businesses and communities — here in Murray and all across the state of Kentucky.

Craig Fortenbery is the President of Mainstream Commercial Divers, Inc. and the Association of Diving Contractors, and is a member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America.