Anchorage: Air Crossroads of the World

The “new” Anchorage, a vigorous hub for air cargo in the past, is quickly becoming a vital link to China and global commerce.


Historically, Anchorage has been plagued by misconceptions and stereotypes of a cold, dark terrain consisting of igloos and dog sleds. Homer once dubbed it “the end of the road.” Increased tourism has halted those perceptions and Anchorage is now known as the “City of Lights and Flowers”, a bustling city with a formidable backdrop of glaciers and mountains. Because of its strategic geographical location, the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, serving 46 airlines, 10 charters and 25 international all-cargo operators, is home to the second largest US cargo airport (behind Memphis) and is an ideal gateway to major international.

In March of this year, according to Transportation Department spokesman Bill Mosley, in an agreement to increase airlifts to China each year through 2010, the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) upped the number of cargo flights to China, 60 of which will pass through Anchorage.

The Players

Of the 25 international all-cargo operators the airport supports, the largest are Federal Express and United Parcel Service. FedEx and UPS operate major hubs at Anchorage International for cargo heading to and from the Far East, accounting for more than 16 percent of the cargo handled. FedEx’s hub serves as its portal to Asia with 302,065 sq. ft. in warehouse space, an 80,000 ft. hangar, handling as many as 13,400 packages per hour, employing more than 1,200 people and providing a full customs clearance system. UPS’s hub handles about 5,000 parcels per hour. Both companies forecast a large growth in traffic over the next several years as trade with China and other Far East countries increases, and both plan to expand their Anchorage facilities comparatively. In fact, FedEx, UPS and Northwest have begun flying dozens more flights per week to China as a result of the aviation agreement, and Polar Air Cargo significantly increased its cargo sort at Anchorage as a result of its new frequencies to Japan and next year expects to have 12 scheduled flights to China.

The United States Postal Service also operates a large hub in Anchorage for mail and parcels headed to Alaskan destinations. United Airlines selected Anchorage as its primary pacific hub for its Asia/North America international freighter service. Alaska Airlines constructed an $8 million freight facility. Some of the other major players for ground and cargo handling at the airport include Swissport USA, Inc., Delta Global Services, Evergreen International Airlines and Pegasus Aircraft, an aircraft service company that handles much of the line maintenance and de-icing services for the cargo operators.

The Master Plan

Landings by cargo aircraft rose to an all time high during fiscal year 1996 and it was a November 1996 ruling by the USDOT in response to an application from the State of Alaska that granted expanded cargo transfer authorities for foreign carriers transiting the state. The airport continues to lobby USDOT on appropriate issues on an ongoing basis to the benefit of all its international carriers.

According to Morton V. Plumb, Jr., airport director, “the airport’s master plan is based on the growth patterns they see as well as using the FAA forecast … and they have had ‘several master plans in the last couple of years.’

“In 1998 we did a terminal master plan as we got ready to build a new terminal and then we did a cargo master plan which was expanded and published in 2003 … and we are currently in the midst of finalizing the general aviation plan,” Plumb says. Presently, the airport is in the process of selecting a consultant for doing a full airport master plan which will amount to approximately $2 million over the next two years and will be updated at the end of three years. It will call for the North Air Park to be all cargo. The west side of the airport is yet to be developed as well and Plumb states “is clearly a prime location and choice land.”

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