Alaska is a place where the small airplane still rules.
Last winter, a friend out of Fairbanks invited me to come work as a volunteer for the Yukon Quest sled dog race, where intrepid mushers guide their teams over a thousand-mile course through the Yukon in the dead of winter. (Think Iditarod on steroids.)
For a million reasons, the volunteering part of the trip didn’t materialize, but I did get a good look into how people use their airplanes in what is truly The Last Frontier.
For us folks in the Lower 48, Alaskan aviation is mind-boggling. With General Aviation air traffic dwindling in most American flyways, you’d never know it by looking into the skies over Alaska. Aviation is a huge part of living in America’s 49th state.
It’s hard to go anywhere in Alaska and not find yourself in the company of at least someone who’s earned a private pilot certificate. There are more pilots per capita than any other state, and probably the world. It’s not unusual to find yourself in the midst of half a dozen pilots, even when standing in line at the post office.
Part of the reason aviation is alive and well in Alaska is plain and simple: there just aren’t any roads. Sure, there are lots of car thoroughfares around the few larger collections of civilization, like Anchorage or Fairbanks or Juneau. In these towns, you can drive around all you want, visit the grocery store, pick up your mail, even get yourself a speeding ticket if you’ve a mind to.
But you often can’t leave those towns in your car. The state capital of Juneau, for example, is not connected by road to the rest of the North American highway system. You can only come and go by ferry or by airplane.
And even if you could drive to other destinations, maybe you wouldn’t want to. The distances are great. Alaska is the largest state in the United States in land area at 663,268 square miles—over twice the size of Texas, the next largest state. Alaska is larger than all but 18 sovereign countries.
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