Politicians and Planes

<BR cmid="Article:Two Deck"><SPAN class=twodeck cmid="Article:Two Deck">Lifting off to get down to business</SPAN>

September 24, 2009

Planes and Politicians Texas Sen. Kel Seliger uses his Beechcraft Bonanza to conduct business and to get around his 33,000-square-mile district.

Texas State Sen. Kel Seliger represents a district of 33,000 square miles—an area slightly smaller than the state of Indiana. The vastness of the district could pose a problem to someone like Seliger, who likes to meet with people in communities large and small throughout the area, but he has little trouble visiting the farthest corners of his district. The same Beechcraft Bonanza that helps him do business also enables him to fly into cities and towns for meetings, speeches, and other events throughout the district.

As a pilot and as co-owner and executive vice president of Lake Steel, a steel service center, Seliger knows how aviation resources can help businesses and economic development in his state. In public office, he has worked to help communities all over the state have the aviation infrastructure they need.

Between his family steel business and his work in the statehouse, he’s always on the go—and the mobility of general aviation allows him to travel to the areas he represents without taking too much time out of his busy schedule for long road trips.

“I couldn’t really do that very efficiently with the frequency I’d like if I had to drive all of it,” he said. And along the way, he gets a special perspective on the landscape that makes up the Texas Panhandle and surrounding areas.

Getting there is half the fun

The Bonanza allows Seliger to divide his time between his private business and public office, both of which involve traveling: Seliger represents the thirty-first district of Texas, an area that spans 26 counties from the Panhandle to the Permian Basin and includes Amarillo, Midland, Odessa, and Big Spring.

Seliger said he has landed in every county in his district, including at a nicely maintained strip for agricultural applicator use in a county that has no other airport. One recent trip took him to town hall meetings in four separate towns—Crane, Andrews, Midland, and Odessa—in one day before he made the 200-mile flight back home to Amarillo.

planes & politicians Seliger with Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. In the state Senate, Seliger has worked to keep regulations from imposing unnecessary costs on pilots and aircraft owners.

“It’s a beautiful part of the country,” Seliger said of his district, “and it’s rugged and it’s developed and parts of it are verdant—and it’s part of the real fun in being able to fly an airplane.”

He said the small airports throughout the district make it possible for him to speak to school groups and rotary clubs, attend town hall meetings, and reach small communities—the town of Plains in his district has fewer than 1,500 residents.

Seliger, who has been an AOPA member for 30 years, began to fly sailplanes in 1976 after reading a book on the subject in college. “Things are beautiful from the air, and it gives you a different dimension of reference when you see things from earth level and above,” he said.

While the experience itself appealed to him, he also recognized the utility of the pastime. He started powered flying later that year and earned additional ratings in the 1980s. Now he uses his aircraft to meet with customers in a five-state area for the company his grandfather started in 1937. A multi-engine and instrument instructor, he has even given an instrument proficiency check to a fellow Texas senator while the two were on a trip.

But flying isn’t just a way to get from Point A to Point B. It’s a joy. Seliger has flown over the Grand Canyon and all over the desert Southwest, he said, and each flight offers something new. He recalled one unexpected treat during a flight over eastern Oklahoma: An air traffic controller told him to look outside—8,000 feet above him was the space shuttle on the back of a Boeing 747.

“There’s something about every flight that makes you look forward to the next one,” he said.

Key to the future

As he has traveled throughout his district and nearby states, Seliger has seen how a solid aviation infrastructure can benefit industry and connect people and communities, and he has worked to protect that resource.

planes & politicians Seliger with Texas Sen. Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso.

Before he was elected to the state senate in 2004, Seliger served four terms as mayor of Amarillo, where he and his wife still reside. During that time, he supported a plan to ensure the city would continue to have jet service with a revenue guarantee. As a state senator, he has supported aviation infrastructure and tried to keep regulations from imposing unnecessary costs on pilots and aircraft owners.

He said he has opposed certain unnecessary and expensive certifications for air ambulances and supported a bill to treat agricultural aircraft the same as other agricultural equipment for taxation purposes. He is trying to help communities all over the state, regardless of their size, have the infrastructure they need, he added.

“Texas is a large state with a large aviation infrastructure and presence,” he said. “… We want to nurture aviation because it’s a key part of the future development of the state.”