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Find out where candidates stand on GAFind out where candidates stand on GA

General aviation is a primary means of transportation in Alaska, so it is critical to know where candidates stand on that subject before heading to the polls. AOPA Alaska Regional Representative Tom George wrote to the campaigns of the two leading gubernatorial candidates, incumbent Republican Sean Parnell and Democrat Ethan Berkowitz, asking what they plan to do to preserve and support GA airports should they be elected. Find out where they stand on the issues.

Gubernatorial candidate Ethan Berkowitz (D)

Question: Aviation is a key component of the state transportation system. What would your administration do to support management of the 256 airports operated by the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities?

Berkowitz: Those 256 airports serve both commercial and general aviation, and as such they play a critical role in the state’s economy and in the fabric of Alaska. My support for these facilities will recognize their importance to Alaska’s transportation infrastructure.

As governor, I will ensure DOTPF [Department of Transportation & Public Facilities] has sufficient funding to operate and maintain state owned airports. That level of support means we will take advantage of all available federal funding for upgrading and expanding airport facilities.

I am also concerned that air transportation responsibilities have been spread too diffusely in the Department, and my administration will take steps to centralize policy and planning. I am looking closely at the suggestion to reorganize DOTPF through a modal (as opposed to functional) structure – highways, marine, and aviation. Alaska is best served when aviation receives departmental advocacy and support commensurate with its importance.

I have been impressed with both the Capstone and Medallion programs, and my administration will continue to support technological upgrades to assist general aviation safety. For example, many of DOTPF’s airports have no runway lights, and we can and should make better use of remote weather cameras and GPS.

Question: Beyond the DOT&PF operated airports, there are 477 additional public and private airports in Alaska operated by municipalities, private owners, and the federal government. What would your administration do to tie this system together for the benefit of the entire state?

Berkowitz: A working group representing the various public and private airports would address the balance between the property rights of private owners with legitimate aviation safety concerns. 

Question: Scattered across public land are remote airstrips and landing areas, many of which are not included in the 735 airports registered with the FAA. These are important for recreation, mineral exploration, guiding, and other uses. They also serve as emergency landing areas when weather changes unexpectedly. What would your administration do to protect and preserve these airstrips?

Berkowitz: As someone who has spent a lot of time in small planes flying over this state, I understand the importance of these airstrips. As governor I will work closely with the aviation community on the best ways to protect them. At the outset, that means generating a more thorough inventory of those strips. It also means taking greater care and exercising more careful planning with land disposal programs.

We will make certain that remote airstrip preservation has an appropriate mandate in Department of Natural Resources planning and, where it makes sense, transfer responsibility for some strips from DNR to DOTPF. We need to insure that there is a quick streamlined process for transfers.

Incumbent Governor Sean Parnell (R)

Question: Aviation is a key component of the state transportation system. What would your administration do to support management of the 256 airports operated by the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities?

Parnell: Each airport, the population it serves, and its users are vitally important to the community and the State. The first step I have taken is to appoint a Deputy Commissioner of Aviation to DOT that understands this principle, Marc Luiken. In order to support management of the airports operated by DOT, you have to know what both the users and the managers of the airports feel the needs are, and how the airport can be run more effectively and efficiently. In his role as Deputy Commissioner, Marc has been, and will continue working with airport managers and personnel to identify issues and bring them to the attention of the Commissioner of DOT and myself. DOT will be proactive in taking input from the public, users, and facility managers and addressing the challenges unique to our state. 

Question: Beyond the DOT&PF operated airports, there are 477 additional public and private airports in Alaska operated by municipalities, private owners, and the federal government. What would your administration do to tie this system together for the benefit of the entire state?

Parnell: State of Alaska DOT&PF – Aviation is currently conducting the Alaska Aviation System Plan. The AASP sets the vision for the Alaska aviation network by addressing Alaska's aviation infrastructure and policy needs. The plan will:

  • Identify airport improvements needed
  • Set priorities for funding
  • Propose aviation policy
  • Document the existing system with photos, maps, and data

Within this plan DOT&PF is also including many of the municipal, privately owned and federal airports you mention. To ensure the list is comprehensive, I’ll ask DOT to include any remaining airports that would be important to the Alaska Aviation System and coordinate with those organizations, agencies or individuals that represent these airports.  I also have appointed the Alaska Aviation Advisory Board, made up of a cross section of Alaska Aviation stakeholders, who are also involved in this process and who will help to ensure the interests of these airports are represented in the AASP.

Question: Scattered across public land are remote airstrips and landing areas, many of which are not included in the 735 airports registered with the FAA. These are important for recreation, mineral exploration, guiding, and other uses. They also serve as emergency landing areas when weather changes unexpectedly. What would your administration do to protect and preserve these airstrips?

Parnell: Before any steps can be considered that would protect and preserve airstrips located on public lands, the airstrips and landing areas would have to be identified and a review done to determine whether the airstrips and landing areas are on state land, municipal land, or federal lands. 

Airstrips located on federal or municipal lands would be subject to federal law and municipal ordinances. Depending on the circumstances of each specific airstrip or landing area, I could urge federal or municipal officials to take steps to allow an airstrip or landing area to continue to be used. 

As for airstrips located on state lands, I strongly support access to public lands for economic development such as mining and hunting. However, I would need to know the number of total airstrips, and the details on each airstrip, to develop a statewide policy for the legislature to consider as a proposed bill.

Topics: Advocacy

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