Voices of Alaska: Alaska depends on general aviation

  • Wednesday, March 7, 2018 8:26pm
  • Opinion

It’s no exaggeration to say those of us in Alaska depend heavily on general aviation. Less than 20 percent of Alaska’s communities are connected to Alaska’s meager road system, and there are over 150 communities across Alaska where air travel is the only means of getting in or out. Growing up in Alaska I lived 40 miles from the nearest road. We depended on seaplanes and ski planes for everything from mail to groceries. Living in such remote settings would often leave you with a sense of isolation, however, thanks to general aviation and our network of small airports we were able to remain connected to the world. Almost any community outside of Anchorage depends heavily on their local airport. Were it not for general aviation, it’d be impossible for many communities in Alaska to survive.

Not only do communities depend on general aviation, businesses all across our state depend on it as well. Thousands of jobs depend on general aviation, with its economic benefits just north of $1 billion per year. Our network of 403 public-use airports across the state allow businesses to reach the far corners of our State. Facing challenges that other states may not understand, my company, ARS Aleut Analytical, has learned to adapt to those challenges through our use of general aviation. We provide a variety of services across the state related to hazardous site contamination, health monitoring of waste management, analysis for decontamination and demolition services, and performing regular testing for public and private drinking water for health concerns. We are constantly running laboratory tests on water, and other samples, to ensure that it is safe for the public out of our locations in Fairbanks, Wasilla, and Anchorage. EPA federal and state regulations mandate that public drinking water be tested a specific number of times per month. This is the water used by schools, businesses, and local communities. We test these samples for a range of contaminants, but some are very time sensitive. An example is Fecal Coliform testing, which indicate the possible presence of other pathogenic organism contaminates. To test for Fecal Coliform, we need to have the sample drawn and get it to our lab within eight hours, because the second the water sample is taken the Biosystems start to change. In most parts of the country, this is a sampling process that can be done regionally by transporting locally to a laboratory by vehicle. However, given Alaska’s size (663,268 sq miles) and our unique geography (mountain ranges, fjords, volcanoes, glaciers, 2,670 named islands) it would be impossible to deliver water samples by car from Adak, Nome or hundreds of other remote communities to our laboratory within eight hours.

General aviation is also important for healthcare, law enforcement, and charitable use. Air ambulance services use general aviation to help to ensure that everyone in Alaska receives the medical care they need. Alaskan Animal Rescue Friends (AARF) is a non-profit group of volunteers that rescues, rehabilitates, and works to adopt dogs from across the state, and particularly within the bush communities. Dog sledding is a point of cultural pride throughout many parts of Alaska, which in some cases has led to a number of stray dogs in some communities. AARF plays an important role in bringing stray dogs to their facility in Anchorage where they receive medical care, chipped, and adopted by loving families by the larger city population. In any other state, it would be possible to drive these K-9s from one part of the state to the other, but given Alaska’s terrain and weather, such an undertaking would be impractical were it not for general aviation.

As you can see, general aviation plays an intricate and inseparable role in supporting our economy and our communities – it is our lifeline. However, a proposal in Congress to privatize air traffic control would transfer oversight of the system from Congress and the FAA, to an unelected board that is largely controlled by the biggest commercial airlines and airports. This board would make decisions ranging from infrastructure investments to taxes and fees, based on what’s best for them, rather than the public’s best interest. Ultimately that means focusing resources in the biggest cities in the lower 48 states, at the expense of smaller communities and rural parts of the country. I fear that this would have a devastating effect on Alaska businesses, charities, and medical services that depend on our network of airports.

Under our current system, oversight by our elected officials ensures that the public interest is protected. Only this type of oversight, which ultimately makes the system accountable to the public, can ensure that this resource continues to serve the public’s best interest.

Our public airspace is accessible to all and should remain just that.

Meghan Williams is a Sales Representative with ARS Aleut Analytical, LLC.

More in Opinion

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo
Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom addresses the crowd during an inaugural celebration for her and Gov. Mike Dunleavy at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Jan. 20, 2023.
Opinion: The many truths Dahlstrom will deny

Real conservatives wouldn’t be trashing the rule of law

Gov. Mike Dunleavy discusses his veto of a wide-ranging education bill during a press conference March 16 at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Governor, please pay more attention to Alaskans

Our governor has been a busy guy on big issues.

A roll of “I voted” stickers sit at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Juneau in 2022. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Strengthening democracy: Native vote partners to boost voter registration

GOTNV and VPC are partnering to send over 4,000 voter registration applications this month to addresses and P.O. boxes all over Alaska

Priya Helweg is the acting regional director and executive officer for the Region 10 Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
Happy Pride Month

This month is dedicated to acknowledging and uplifting the voices and experiences of the LGBTQI+ community

Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
Former President Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower after he was found guilty of all counts in his criminal trial in New York on May 30.
Opinion: Trump’s new fixers

Fixers from Alaska and elsewhere step in after guilty verdict

Ballot booths are set up inside Kenai City Hall on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Perspective from an election worker

Here is what I know about our Kenai Peninsula Borough election system

Apayauq Reitan, the first transgender woman to participate in the Iditarod, tells the House Education Committee on March 30, 2023, why she opposes a bill restricting transgender rights. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The imaginary transgender sports crisis

House Bill 183 is a right-wing solution to a problem that doesn’t exist now and never will.

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, a Nikiski Republican, speaks in favor of overriding a veto of Senate Bill 140 during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Session ends with budget, dividend and bills passed

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

The Alaska State Capitol. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Listen to PAs; support Senate Bill 115: Modernizing PA Practice in Alaska

Health care is rapidly evolving, demanding a more flexible and responsive system

Mount Redoubt can be seen across Cook Inlet from North Kenai Beach on Thursday, July 2, 2022. (Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion file photo)
Opinion: Hilcorp Alaska: Powering Southcentral Alaska — past, present and future

Hilcorp Alaska has and will continue to fully develop our Cook Inlet basin leasehold

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, a Nikiski Republican, speaks in favor of overriding a veto of Senate Bill 140 during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024 (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Collegiality matters

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau