When the president comes to town, small aviation companies lose money
Imagine walking out to your driveway to take your car to work and being met by armed law enforcement officers who tell you that because the president or some VIP is in town, you cannot use your personally-owned vehicle today. Far-fetched? Not really. In fact, this is exactly the scenario faced by pilots and aircraft owners who are supposed to be afforded the benefit of the principle of “innocent until proven guilty,” but are instead the victims of an overreaching federal policy which constitutes an unconstitutional taking of public airspace and access rights without due process of law.
A temporary flight restriction is a term that many of us are unaware of and could really care less about, but it is significant and can impact us all economically and ethically. Commercial airline operations are not impacted by this type of flight restriction, so if you are going to visit Aunt Maude in Montana, you will still be able to do so. However, all of the general aviation operators in your area will feel the very real economic impact of this decree, including those of us in Las Vegas. Whenever the president comes to town, general aviation in our area is brought to a standstill.
Think about it: Flight instructors, student pilots, hot air balloon pilots, pilots who are out flying to stay sharp and current in their aircraft, mechanics bringing small airplanes back to service by flying them around the airport, tourists on holiday trying to take a ride in a hot air balloon or other small aircraft, local people who have to commute by air in a small aircraft to work out of state; all of these folks will be grounded during the president’s stay in our city. How many airports will it affect? Because we are in a valley here, with all our airports within twenty nautical miles of each other, it will affect all of them. Has it always been this way? The answer is a resounding “No.”
After the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, many new restrictions were implemented, and this is one of them. What most people do not know is that a study funded by the government, which means that all of us paid for it, was conducted to see if general aviation aircraft were really a threat to national security. The findings of this study concluded that they are not a threat. Period. End of story.
However, what type of aircraft were used in the attacks on that fateful day? It was commercial airliners. What types of aircraft are allowed to fly around when the president visits and we are told that general aviation aircraft (the small stuff) has to be grounded for safety? Well, it’s the commercial airliners who are allowed to keep operating, even after the federally-funded study which concluded that general aviation aircraft are not a threat to national security and that large, heavy airline aircraft with their higher weight, increased fuel load and higher speeds are. And there you have the indignity of commercial air travel today.
In addition to this contradiction, the nature and expense of aviation means small aviation operators cannot afford to lose business for a day or even a few hours. Does the federal government compensate pilots and passengers for their losses whenever a restriction like this is put into place? No. The pilots and passengers lose money that is never recovered.
Assuming five flight schools each with three aircraft at an hourly aircraft rental of $140 per hour and an instructor cost of $40 per hour, each flight school is losing $540 of income per hour of restriction. A helicopter tour company with a 12-helicopter fleet carrying five passengers each at $300 per passenger is losing $18,000 per hour. This is a total of $20,700 per hour of losses per restriction. Assuming six hours a day, and factoring in the flights lost by local balloon companies, the total losses easily top $132,000 dollars per day. This is levied on the shoulders of only a handful of local businesses, in one of the towns hardest hit by the recession.
Not only do businesses lose money due to not being able to deliver services as requested, they lose faith in the federal government’s willingness to protect their freedoms. They lose heart that we all have the same protected rights. They lose, period.
And you lose too. How? You lose industry and economic wealth that could support your community. You lose money from federally funded studies that were not utilized. You lose freedoms, because as each small freedom is successfully encroached upon in any area of life, it increases the chance that more freedoms will be taken. The scenario in the beginning of this article is not the reality today, but it could be our reality tomorrow. Please care about aviation. Without it you and I would have no overnight package delivery, no rapid return of lab results, no airborne traffic reports and no future pilots, astronauts, air shows or hot air balloon festivals.
Many people come to the United States of America to learn to fly because general aviation has all but collapsed and disappeared in other countries due to rampant losses of freedoms, user fees and onerous government restrictions. If we allow general aviation to be destroyed here as it has been overseas, it will be a truly sad day. Our airspace is a national treasure and all forms of aviation serve us and protect us here in the United States of America.
So what can you do? Contact your senators and representatives and demand that the current temporary flight restriction policy be repealed and that the government follow due process before taking public resources. Get involved. The general aviation industry belongs to all of us and we need to protect it.