Airplanes aren't the first thing we generally think about when we consider a local economy. Think again: The network of airplanes and airports in Oklahoma are crucial connectors for businesses and industries, helping support area jobs and aiding industries as they expand.
A perfect example is the acquisition of GEFCO, a company based in Enid, by Astec Industries of Chattanooga, Tenn. GEFCO is a local company that makes drilling equipment for construction, water well drilling, mining, and oil and gas production. It's been a major employer in the area for decades and employs more than 150 workers.
With this acquisition, Astec Industries plans to invest millions of dollars in the local facility and double its workforce. Throughout the process, travel on small aircraft (also known as general aviation) through the Enid Woodring Regional Airport was crucial to facilitating this acquisition and the ultimate expansion. Astec will use general aviation and the local airport extensively in the years ahead as the company grows and expands its economic footprint.
GEFCO isn't the only company with assets in Enid that use the airport regularly. Others include Ward Petroleum, Enivirotech, Aircraft Structures International, Hiland Partners, Johnston Enterprises, Groendyke Transport and Ad-vancePierre Foods. The Enid airport is a prime example of how general aviation and local airports support, sustain and encourage economic activity for communities.
Across the state, the general aviation industry has an economic impact of $1.2 billion. The aviation and aerospace sectors employ more than 144,000 workers in Oklahoma. Community airports and general aviation also play a vital role in public safety. Law enforcement, firefighters, emergency medical responders, search-and-rescue teams, nonprofit organizations and natural disaster relief crews all rely on general aviation regularly.
Despite all the benefits of community airports and general aviation, many people aren't aware of their value. A new proposal would place a $100-per-flight “user fee” tax on the small businesses, farms, nonprofits and communities that rely on these aircraft. Worse, this new tax system would create a new bureaucracy within the FAA to collect the taxes. The current system is a fuel tax that's simple to comply with and administer. It's fair and proportionate to use.
Luckily, the importance of these airports and our air transportation system isn't lost on state and local leaders. Gov. Mary Fallin has written to the president to ask the administration to recognize the critical importance of small aircraft to our local economy and communities across Oklahoma. She also declared August “Aviation and Aerospace Appreciation Month.”
These are commendable steps that will help raise awareness about this crucial form of transportation for our state and the national economy.
Kisling is executive director of the Enid Regional Development Alliance.