Few Ships, No Roads, Why Not Air?   Leave a comment

Part 5 of Ernest Gruening’s “Let Us End American Colonialism” speech at the 1955 Alaska Constitutional Convention. Some of termed it the Alaska Declaration of Independence.

As I read through the speech, what strikes me is how much of what Gruening listed as complaints about territoriality still exist today 55 years after statehood. Now it’s not that the federal government refuses to fund these things … it’s that they refuse to permit them.

Statehood changed nothing!


We have now viewed three flagrant examples of colonialism in three of the major means of transportation, shipping, railways and highways. Let us now look at the fourth-airways.

It is superfluous to signalize our air-mindedness to any group of Alaskans. But the candid world should know that Alaskans fly thirty to forty times more than other Americans, and starting with our bush pilots, early developed a fine system of intra-Alaskan aviation. It was almost wholly an Alaskan enterprise–flown and financed by Alaskans–though for a time without airports, aids to navigation and other assistance provided in the mother country. The Air Commerce Act of 1926–a sort of federal aid act for air–did not supply any of these aids to Alaska, although Alaska was included in the legislation.

Nevertheless Alaska again suffered the penalty of being a colony, this time at the hands of the federal executive agency entrusted with administration of the Act. This time it was the bureaucrats who “excluded” Alaska. But the Alaskan bush pilots flew anyhow and what we have in the way of airways in Alaska is largely due to their courageous and skilful pioneering.

However, air service between Alaska and the States, which required the approval of federal bureaus and investment of outside capital, lagged far behind. The first commercial service connecting Alaska with the mother country did not take place until 1940, long after American commercial air carriers had spanned the rest of the hemisphere and had established regular service across the Pacific.

Meanwhile the newly created bureaucracies of the Civil Aeronautics Board and the Civil Aeronautics Administration moved into Alaska. They began restricting local enterprise. In the late 1940’s, over the widespread protests of Alaskans, the CAB. began cracking down on non-scheduled operations, and finally eliminated the “non-scheds” completely. It did not do so in the forty-eight states. Alaska was again the victim of its colonial status. We had no Senators or voting representatives to fend for us.

The successive certification cases which for over a decade have dealt with transportation between the states and Alaska, have been desperate, and not wholly successful, struggles by Alaskans to overcome the inadequate understanding of the Civil Aeronautics Board that air transportation is relatively much more important in Alaska than in the states with their well-established alternative forms of transportation, by railways and highways. Five years ago interior Alaska was saved from insufficient service only by President Truman’s overruling the Board and granting certification to one of the two Alaskan carriers which the Board had denied.

For the last two years our two Alaskan carriers, in the face of. steadily mounting traffic, have managed by heroic, all-out effort at least to retain what they had. But it is noteworthy that while the two international carriers serving Alaska, both “mother country” enterprises, have been granted permanent certificates, the certificates for our two Alaskan carriers are only temporary–a handicap to their financing and to their ability to expand.

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