By Senator John Thune
Whether traveling for business or a family vacation, South Dakotans rely on commercial airline service and our state's aviation infrastructure to provide safe, reliable air travel. While there can be frustrations when it comes to airline travel, maintaining connectivity through safe, reliable, and affordable air service is vital to South Dakota's growing economy.
The airline industry of today is far different from what it looked like prior to changes made in 1978, when Congress deregulated the airlines and removed itself from the business of selecting airline routes and setting ticket prices. Since that time, capacity has increased dramatically and competition has often meant that consumers have more options when it comes to choosing an airline or a destination. Even with deregulation, however, the federal government maintains an important role when it comes to infrastructure investment, as well as ensuring the safety and security of our aviation system across the country.
It is also important to mention the economic significance of both commercial and general aviation in a state like South Dakota, where distance often presents a barrier for commerce. Estimates from the South Dakota Department of Transportation suggest that, in our state, the aviation industry supports 7,000 jobs, and generates $800 million in business sales and $250 million in personal income annually, both directly and indirectly. Still, challenges remain when it comes to maintaining commercial service in a rural state like South Dakota, which has six commercial airports with regularly scheduled flights and 65 other airports that provide varying degrees of general and business aviation services.
Last week, as part of my work as Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation, I hosted an aviation roundtable in Sioux Falls. This roundtable presented an opportunity to discuss not only the challenges, but also the business opportunities when it comes to commercial service for both the aviation industry and South Dakota communities. The roundtable brought together airline representatives, along with local leaders, and provided the public with an opportunity to ask questions and hear directly from key stakeholders.
I was pleased with the discussion and dialogue at the event, and believe it represented a positive step to maintaining and strengthening commercial airline service throughout the state. I look forward to continuing these discussions in other South Dakota communities and hearing from individuals, businesses, and community leaders on this issue. As I continue my role on the Senate Commerce Committee, I will work to improve the safety, reliability, efficiency, and accountability of the aviation industry.