Connecting Alaska: How the AASP Keeps Rural Communities Accessible
For most people, traveling from one place to another is as simple as grabbing keys, getting in the car, and hopping on the highway. However, for people in many of Alaska’s rural communities, it’s not quite that simple. With over 80% of Alaska communities inaccessible from the road system, air travel is a lifeline for many people in the state. Alaska’s off-road communities rely on the aviation system for not only physical travel but also for the delivery of goods and services such as groceries, building materials, and medevac for medical emergencies.
To provide access to all Alaskan communities, over 700 airports exist across the state. About 235 of these are owned and operated by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF). To oversee the maintenance and safety of these airports and runways, DOT&PF, guided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), created the Alaska Aviation System Plan (AASP). Over the past decade, this continuous planning effort has been instrumental in helping pilots, engineers, elected officials, and other stakeholders track the condition of airport infrastructure and prioritize projects to achieve safety and fiscal responsibility goals. This is no small task, considering that Alaska boasts the largest aviation system in North America.
As the prime contractor for Phase III, RESPEC keeps airport system information updated, conducts studies to facilitate planning and design for future development, and assists the DOT&PF in meeting state and FAA requirements for long-range planning to qualify for federal funding.
“It’s a lot about evaluating the needs at airports across Alaska and documenting the issues,” says Natalie Lyon, Community & Regional Planner with RESPEC.
Attending local aviation fairs and other public events allows RESPEC to conduct public outreach for the AASP. These events are perfect for sharing updates and information with the people of Alaska and serve as a time for people to voice their concerns and suggest improvements for the airports.
Aviation is truly a lifeline for many people in Alaska. Though the rugged landscape and remoteness of the state comes with its unique set of challenges, the AASP helps keep Alaskans connected—and most Alaskans wouldn’t have it any other way.