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he says. “We’re trying to transition to be able to maintain what we’ve got.” Other than the projects mentioned above, Binder says the rest of the budget is going toward new equipment. “That sucks up quite a big chunk of our federal funding,” he says. “Those are the big dollar items that catch people’s attention.” Although much of the construction funding is federal, the state pays for the rest, and the challenges of the budget crisis are being felt. In the department’s quarterly “Plane Talk” newsletter, Binder says the department is focusing on efficiencies and cost reductions: “Revenue generation options at our rural airports are limited, and while many of these airports are unattended, with no lease lots or other revenue sources, ensuring they remain safe and meet the daily aviation needs of the community is costly.” The department is looking at additional revenue sources, such as a landing fee at the Deadhorse Airport and an increase in aviation fuel taxes.

Military Aviation

In addition to the public facilities, Alaska also is home to a large military presence. The Pacific Air Forces Regional Support

Center oversees nine airfields within Alaska, says Tommie Baker, chief of community relations for the Eleventh Air Force, Alaskan Command. Aside from normal maintenance procedures, Baker says the military has a major construction planned for the Cape Lisburne site in northwest Alaska. The $41.6 million project, awarded to contractor Orion Marine Construction, will repair the rock seawall protecting the runway from erosion from tidal and stormdriven waves. The seawall, which protects the facility’s only runway, was damaged by a storm in 2012 and further depleted by erosion. The storm damaged the runway, resulting in a multi-day closure. “If this project is not completed, future erosion of the embankment and resultant damage to the runway will halt fixed-wing aircraft to/from the airfield,” according to a US Air Force statement. “This would require use of helicopters which are more vulnerable to flight conditions, potentially endangering personnel, and reducing cargo support.” Rock from a nearby quarry will be used. Baker says weather and the seasons play a large role in Air Force maintenance operations. “Often, during the winter, it’s incredibly difficult to access a site due to high winds

or inclement weather,” he says. “During the summer, we have to squeeze a year’s worth of maintenance and building upgrades into a few short months. “Our gravel runways also present some challenges,” he says. “During the winter when the ground is frozen, the runways work great, but in the spring, when the ground thaws, we routinely do more maintenance to level the airstrip and ensure it meets Air Force standards.” Other agencies such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Weather Service also routinely use the facilities, which are vital for the Air Force’s homeland defense mission, Baker writes in an email. “The Long Range Radar where the airfields are located provide a strategic air picture and coastal surveillance to detect unidentified aircraft heading toward North America, as well as maintaining accountability of friendly military and commercial aircraft in our airspace,” he says. “These airfields allow us to complete the crucial mission of watching the skies over North America.” R Julie Stricker is a journalist living near Fairbanks.

March 2016 | Alaska Business Monthly


Alaska Business Monthly March 2016  
Alaska Business Monthly March 2016  

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