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.

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