Budget impasse: Alaska airports shut down July 1?

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As unlikely as it is that Gov. Bill Walker allows state government to shut down in two weeks, if Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature cannot unlock horns on the budget, what would happen at certain Alaska airports?

Some might have to close down jet service. Enormous volumes of people, cargo, and fish would be stranded.

All runways with a “Part 139” designation, where planes carrying more than 30 passengers land, are required to have fire suppression available on the ground during landing and take off.

These are FAA-set, unmovable regulations. With no fire suppression, only small air carriers such as Raven and Penn Air can use these runways.

Among airports affected are Ted Stevens International in Anchorage, as well as Kodiak, Kenai, Fairbanks, Barrow, Bethel, Cordova, Deadhorse, Nome, Kotzebue, Dillingham, Petersburg, Sitka, Wrangell, and Gustavus.

Not only would passengers be stuck, but the salmon, mail, and even groceries and medicine will be grounded. At this time of year, fish are flown out of places like Dillingham by the ton.

The potential impact of the entire economy shutting down has not been mentioned in the governor’s 15 press releases from his departments, which list impacts of a government shutdown.

Gov. Walker can make the argument that protecting life and safety requires firefighters to be available for planes, but the fire suppression workers at rural airports such as Dillingham are staffed by Department of Transportation workers, whose main jobs involves roads, bridges and buildings. They’re only assigned to stand by the fire truck when jets come in and take off.

This duty-sharing work flow is an efficiency that works in rural areas in normal times.  But this year’s battle, with the governor and Democrats driving state government to the brink of a shutdown in order to get an income tax, is anything but normal times.

 

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