Rep. Adrian Smith (R-3-NE) serves Nebraska’s 3rd congressional district, tackling issues ranging from biofuels to transportation research and development to fashioning legislation promoting rural America. Smith, who is a member of the House General Aviation Caucus and Rural Caucus, serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means, which is key to promoting job creation and economic growth and promulgating tax policy. He has championed worldwide access for Nebraska’s agriculture products and tax relief for the state’s families, agricultural producers and small business owners. A native of Gering, his family has called Nebraska home for six generations. Prior to his election to Congress, Smith served his hometown as a member of the city council. He then represented District 48 for eight years in Nebraska’s Unicameral Legislature.
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Q: You have been a longtime member of the House GA Caucus. Why is the industry important to your district?
My district is populated by rural, agriculture-oriented communities and covers a very large geographic area. For example, Cherry County, located in the district, spans more than 6,000 square miles, making it larger than Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island. GA is critical to these communities, as it provides much-needed connections to areas not served by the airlines or with limited commercial flight schedules. Also, with agriculture amounting to 20 percent of Nebraska’s GDP, the 80 public-use airports in our state serve the aerial application industry and play an essential role in protecting our food supply.
Q: There have been significant investments at GA airports in your district. What has been the impact on jobs and economic development?
In Nebraska, we are lucky to have more than 8,000 jobs tied to GA, generating nearly $1.6 billion in economic output. These are high-skill, good-paying jobs that provide an excellent career path for many of my constituents.
For example, at Central Nebraska Regional Airport in Grand Island, Trego-Dugan Aviation has made significant investments, and the company has steadily increased its number of employees. Also, in 2019, rural airports located in Gordon, Red Cloud and Thomas County received DOT grants for important runway rehabilitation work that will enable them to serve GA operators better.
Q: During debate on the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, you led the effort to secure continued support for rural airports. Was this a success?
Rural airports in Nebraska were at risk of losing critical safety funding under the Airport Improvement Program (AIP). With the growing pilot shortage and reduction in airline service, these airports were in a position to fall below the statutory minimum of 10,000 annual enplanements required to secure AIP funding. My amendment allowed these airports to continue receiving full funding as though they were continuing to exceed 10,000 enplanements. All three of these airports, with new commercial carriers serving the communities, went on to exceed 10,000 enplanements in 2019.
While I would call my amendment a short-term success, I continue to be concerned for the long-term future of these airports due to the shortages of qualified pilots and maintenance technicians. I look forward to partnering with the FAA and industry on innovative programs to grow our aviation workforce.
Q: As a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, you helped pass the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. How has this law benefited your constituents?
With more than 96 percent of Nebraska’s employers being small businesses, this law lowered the tax rate for many of these companies, enabling them to make additional investments. Through the modification and extension of immediate expensing, many businesses are also now in a better position to invest more in capital equipment. For GA, expansion of immediate expensing to pre-owned property has generated significant activity in the GA aircraft market.
Unfortunately, some key tax-reform policies, including immediate expensing, will expire in the coming years. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Ways & Means Committee to extend or make permanent these pro-growth initiatives that have a proven record of job creation.
Q: The growing demand for pilots and technicians has presented challenges for many communities in your district. Why is this issue so important to you?
For Nebraska’s 3rd district to be prosperous, we need a growing pipeline of aviation professionals. At the airports in communities I represent, we have faced challenges retaining commercial air service due to the lack of qualified pilots. These reductions in service reduce the transportation connections to small towns and make it difficult for local businesses to grow. Addressing the aviation workforce shortage is critical since, according to Boeing, 645,000 new commercial pilots and nearly 100,000 new business aircraft pilots will be needed worldwide between 2019 and 2038. In the maintenance sector, there is a projected worldwide demand for almost 770,000 new technicians over the next 20 years.
To begin understanding and addressing these significant challenges, I introduced an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 that requires a study on the aviation workforce and what we can do to mitigate pilot shortages. I applaud NBAA for its efforts to attract the next generation of pilots and technicians to the GA industry through student-focused initiatives.