August 15, 2010

Maine Voices:
Maine flies on general aviation

A network of pilots and airports services the state's economy in ways that the public may not see.

By JEFF NORTHGRAVES

For many, Maine represents a place of solitude and a playground for outdoor tourists from all over the country who make their way to the Pine Tree State to take in the scenery along the rugged coast or hike the daunting Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park.

click image to enlarge

Small, privately owned planes that make up general aviation play a key role in Maine’s tourist economy as well as performing key rescue and medical evacuation functions, often on a volunteer basis.

Fred J. Field/Staff Photographer

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeff Northgraves
is the manager of Knox County Regional Airport in Rockland.

And to do so, small aircraft, generally known as general aviation, allow some 130,000 visitors to travel around the state each year. The truth is, whether it's tourism, business, medical care, farmers who use these small planes for crop maintenance, the timber industry -- a vital part of Maine's economy -- or otherwise, general aviation is a silent but crucial economic contributor to our state.

Many Maine businesses, for example, consider general aviation an essential tool for their organizations. It serves as a convenient mode of transportation to make a routine meeting that may have taken a couple of days if they had to rely on a major airline. Or they use it to reach plants or warehouses in rural areas, deliver goods to customers, or transport supplies. Maine's general aviation industry adds $521 million to the economy, provides 400 jobs and assists 2,707 pilots through 67 public-use airports.

In addition, small general aviation aircraft are used extensively by law enforcement, search and rescue organizations and the Civil Air Patrol to maintain a high level of public safety, especially in the face of emergencies.

Many of these same pilots offer their planes for free to assist individuals who need immediate access to medical facilities when none are in close proximity.

In addition, general aviation acts as a lifeline for many communities, as many residents depend on small planes to receive necessities, from everyday goods and services to critical medical equipment and construction materials.

For communities like Kingfield, Rangeley and Sanford, their local general aviation airport is a vital lifeline for not only their economy, but for emergency response and aviation-based charities as well.

Charities like Angel Flight Northeast provide residents in not only Maine, but Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont with access to specialized treatment centers that may take hours or even days to reach by car or may cost hundreds of dollars using a commercial airline.

Since May 1996, Angel Flight Northeast has flown more than 38,000 missions and more than 8 million miles, all with a mission to serve those in need. Angel Flight Northeast alone receives the help of 1,100 trained pilots as well as more than 100 "Earth Angels" who donate their time and cars to drive patients to and from the hospital and airports. Half of the patients Angel Flight Northeast aids are children, many suffering from life-threatening cancer, severe burns or crippling diseases.

Despite its great benefit to not only our state, but the entire nation, general aviation endured a difficult 2009 with a poor economy, sluggish airplane manufacturing sales and a struggling job market.

Thankfully, Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins both recognize the great importance general aviation has in our state. Pilots, small business owners, charities and every person who relies on general aviation across Maine thank the senators for their membership in the Senate General Aviation Caucus.

We applaud their support and look forward to working with them to continue to make Maine's general aviation industry profitable for the small businesses, rural towns and local communities that rely on it.

 

- Special to the Telegram

 

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