Voices of Alaska: General aviation helps Alaska’s farms, businesses take off

  • By Mike Williams
  • Wednesday, January 7, 2015 4:55pm
  • Opinion

Alaska is known for many things, the vast array of wildlife, breathtaking vistas, hunting, fishing and other recreational activities. But many people may not think of the peony flower when they think of Alaska. The truth is that the peony is a highly sought after commercial flower with a very limited growing season. Peony flowers require highly specific environmental conditions and Alaska is the only region in the world that is currently producing peonies between the months of July and September, a time when many of these flowers are sought for weddings. This has given Alaska a unique advantage and the industry is expanding on a daily basis.

 My company, Alaska Peony Distributors, LLC provides post-harvest services including processing, marketing, sales, transportation and storage services to the growing peony industry here in Alaska. We have a distribution network that supports 25 plus farms and covers a service area of over 7300 square miles. These farms are spread far apart and they often have little to no roadway access. In fact, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities, roughly 82% of Alaska’s communities are inaccessible by road. The highway system in Alaska is also limited, and the added hurdles of summer tourist traffic and weather can make our trips an all day endeavor.

For our work, a trip that could take 10 hours by truck can be accomplished in under an hour with the use of air transportation. Fast response times are vital in this industry. When a farm has reached cooler capacity for its current harvest, we can send a twin-engine Piper Navajo or any other suitable airplane to immediately transport the flowers to our refrigerated processing facility near Wasilla Airport. This process allows the farming, shipping and storage process to operate at maximum efficiency during the growing season.  

General aviation gives us the potential to expand peony farming to far flung locations like Bethel, Dillingham, Kodiak, Copper River Valley or any other Alaskan location with a suitable microclimate for growing peonies.

Across Alaska, the story is the same — general aviation helps companies to reach far-off markets, transport goods, supplies and staff and make multiple stops in one day. The use of general aviation is also critical for the delivery of healthcare services in our state. For example, Blood Bank of Alaska relies heavily on general aviation aircraft to transport blood to remote communities across Alaska, and these aircraft are also used for disaster relief and law enforcement.

Here in Alaska, luckily, people tend to realize the incredible value of general aviation to the state. Unfortunately, there are many that still don’t appreciate the numerous benefits that this form of transportation can provide, particularly outside of our vast state. The President’s budget proposal from earlier this year includes a $100 per flight fee that would unfortunately negatively impact the numerous businesses, farms and organizations that rely on general aviation for their work.

Despite this, I am pleased to see that our local elected officials in Alaska have made the effort to recognize the benefits of general aviation and local airports. Recently, Governor Sean Parnell declared September “General Aviation Appreciation Month.” In addition, Mayor Jon Eberhart of Fairbanks and Mayor Dan Sullivan of Anchorage both declared September “General Aviation Appreciation Month.” It is also encouraging to see that Senator Lisa Murkowski and Representative Don Young are part of the General Aviation Caucus.

These are excellent steps forward, I hope we can build on them and continue to spread awareness about this valuable form of transportation.

 

Mike Williams is the managing partner of Alaska Peony Distributors, LLC and a member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America.

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