Among lung pathologies, α1AT, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and asthma are diseases triggered by local environmental stress in the airway that we refer to herein collectively as airway stress diseases (ASDs). A deficiency of α-1-antitrypsin (α1AT) is an inherited genetic disorder that is a consequence of the misfolding of α1AT during protein synthesis in liver hepatocytes, reducing secretion to the plasma and delivery to the lung. Deficiency of α1AT in the lung triggers a similar pathological phenotype to other ASDs. Moreover, the loss of α1AT in the lung is a well-known environmental risk factor for COPD/emphysema. To date there are no effective therapeutic approaches to address ASDs, which reflects a general lack of understanding of their cellular basis. Herein, we propose that ASDs are disorders of proteostasis. That is, they are initiated and propagated by a common theme-a challenge to protein folding capacity maintained by the proteostasis network (PN) (see Balch et al., Science 2008;319:916-919). The PN is a network of chaperones and degradative components that generates and manages protein folding pathways responsible for normal human physiology. In ASD, we suggest that the PN system fails to respond to the increased burden of unfolded proteins due to genetic and environmental stresses, thus triggering pulmonary pathophysiology. We introduce the enabling concept of proteostasis regulators (PRs), small molecules that regulate signaling pathways that control the composition and activity of PN components, as a new and general approach for therapeutic management of ASDs.