Air support for our local communities

 
By Nicholas J. Helmer
Updated 6/8/2012 11:41 AM
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  • Nicholas "Nick" Helmer thanks supporters on election night. He was elected mayor of Prospect Heights.

    Nicholas "Nick" Helmer thanks supporters on election night. He was elected mayor of Prospect Heights.

Just over a year ago, when a devastating tornado ripped through Joplin, Mo., only 500 miles southwest of here, organizations and individuals from around the region and the nation flocked to the Midwest to help with the rescue and recovery efforts. As is often the case with natural disasters, many local airports and groups such as Chicago Executive Airport, the Palwaukee Composite Squadron of Civil Air Patrol and Aerobridge helped transport vital medical and other supplies to the affected areas and evacuated people who were injured and displaced by the tornado. Around the country, the speed and versatility of general aviation make it an essential resource for public safety, disaster relief and health care. From wildfires and lost hikers out West to oil spills and hurricanes in the Gulf, general aviation saves lives.

The same speed and versatility that make general aviation a lifesaving force also make it an indispensable tool for the business world. General aviation is an industry that produces $150 billion a year for the American economy and supports more than 1.2 million jobs across the country. Chicago Executive Airport, located in the Northwest suburbs, alone has an economic impact of more than $330 million and supports more than 2,400 local jobs.

More than 50 firms in the region, representing more than 12,600 employees and 1.3 billion in total sales, rely on Chicago Executive Airport for their transportation needs. Businesses at the airport spend millions of dollars every year in the local economy. The airport does not rely on any local public funding while offering jobs and economic opportunity for the Prospect Heights area. In addition, the general aviation manufacturing here in the United States remains one of the few industries that contributes positively to the balance of trade.

Yet many still do not understand the importance of these aircraft and the local airports and businesses that depend on them for both our local and our national economy. Challenges remain on the horizon. In fact, President Obama recently included a "user fee" tax in his proposed budget for next year, which would cripple the general aviation industry as a whole with new taxes for each take-off and landing. These new taxes would not only come at a time when many of our nation's small businesses are struggling to recover, but they would represent a bureaucratic burden on operators who would have to keep track of hundreds upon hundreds of new fees.

That is why recently more than 100 mayors from across the country, including myself, sent a letter to President Obama outlining the critical importance of general aviation to communities like ours, and the nation as a whole. General aviation and airports across the country greatly benefit their communities in so many ways, whether it be supporting local commerce, helping companies to reach far off plants, or for law enforcement, medical care, disaster relief, blood and organ transport or flight training.

As the mayor of a city with one of the country's premier general aviation airports, I have seen firsthand how important the industry is to our local community and the nation, and I encourage our president to recognize the importance of this important lifeline to local communities around the country.

• Nicholas Helmer is mayor of Prospect Heights.

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