It’s no exaggeration to say those of us in Alaska depend on general aviation. Less than 20 percent of Alaska’s communities are connected to Alaska’s road system, and there are more than 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. Living in such remote settings would often leave you with a sense of isolation. However, thanks to general aviation, we were able to remain connected to the world. Almost any community outside of Anchorage depends heavily on its local airport. Were it not for general aviation, it’d be impossible for many communities in Alaska to survive.
Businesses across our state depend on general aviation. 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.
My company, ARS Aleut Analytical, has learned to adapt to the challenges of working across Alaska through our use of general aviation. We provide a variety of services across the state related to hazardous site contamination, including performing regular testing on drinking water for health concerns. We are constantly running laboratory tests on water to ensure that it is safe for the public out of our locations in Fairbanks, Wasilla and Anchorage. Federal and state regulations mandate that public drinking water be tested multiple times per month. This is the water used by schools, businesses and local communities. We test these samples for a range of contaminants, some are time sensitive.
Take fecal coliform testing, which indicates the possible presence of other contaminates. To test for fecal coliform, we need to have the sample drawn and sent to our lab within eight hours, because the second the water sample is taken the biosystems start to change. In most of the country, this is a sampling process that can be done regionally by driving to a local laboratory. Given Alaska’s size and our unique geography, 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 public services and charity. Air ambulance services use general aviation to help to ensure that everyone in Alaska receives the medical care they need. Alaskan Animal Rescue Friends is a nonprofit group of volunteers that rescues and works to adopt dogs from across the state, and particularly within the bush communities. AARF plays an important role in bringing stray dogs to their facility in Anchorage where they receive medical care and are adopted by loving families in the larger city population. In other states, it would be possible to drive these K-9s across the state, 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 important 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. 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. That means focusing resources in the biggest cities in the Lower 48 states, at the expense of smaller communities across the country. I fear that this would have a devastating effect on Alaska’s communities 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.
Meghan Williams is a sales representative with ARS Aleut Analytical LLC.