Cargo planes

More than 3.48 million tons of air cargo landed at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC) in 2020, a 16 percent increase over record setting volumes in 2019.

A similar volume is expected this year, said Anchorage airport director Jim Szczesniak.

It’s some good news for a state battered by the COVID-19 virus, business shutdowns and the cancellation of the 2020 tourist season.

“In an economy chock full of bad news, this is a real bright spot,” said Bill Popp, CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp., which promotes business in the city and the Southcentral region.

The airport is a big jobs-machine, creating one out of ten direct and indirect jobs, studies have shown. The benefits are not only to Anchorge but also to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough because many airport workers and Anchorage-based flight crews reside in Mat-Su communities.

Air freight has thrived despite the effects of the pandemic on world economies. With retail sharply curtailed in many nations including the U.S. on-line ordering of goods has soared, with much of the supply originating in Asia and destined for U.S. consumers.

Much of it comes by air, and most of the cargo planes flying from Asia to the U.S. or vice versa land in Anchorage to refuel.

“The tremendous surge in cargo volumes through Anchorage has been fueled by an increase in e-commerce, PPE (personal protective equipment) and displaced belly cargo,” said Anchorage airport Director Jim Szczesniak.

Belly cargo means freight usually carried on passenger flights in addition to people and their baggage. With passenger travel off sharply worldwide, that freight has shifted to all-cargo planes like those that land in Alaska.

“The pandemic has left an indelible mark on the e-commerce landscape, accelerating market growth—reaching numbers not forecast to be seen in the U.S. for another two years,” Szczesniak said.

“We expect our cargo numbers to remain strong into 2021, as the air cargo industry continues to recognize the benefits and efficiencies of Anchorage (as a service stop); as e-commerce shopping becomes routine; as international travel restrictions continues to displace belly cargo,” by reduced passenger flights.

Szczesniak said Anchorage is cementing its place as a “center” of the air cargo world, just 9.5 hours flying time from 90 percent of the industrialized world. More than 200 widebody freighter operations take place every day through the airport.

At least 28 widebody cargo carriers connect Anchorge to more than 50 destinations across the globe—30 of them with daily flights and another 20 destinations with a frequency of weekly or better.

Private investors are now investing to build the airport infrastruew that will support more growth in cargo. “We have more than $1 billion of private air cargo development proposed for Anchorage”, Szczesniak said. Alaska Cargo and Cold Storage, an investment firm, recently executed a lease for a new 700,000 square foot facility,” with a large freezer and cold storage facility, he said.

“These developments will provide the infrastructure to streamline the global supply chain and make Anchorage a staple in the ‘cold’ chain,” for products needing cold storage. These warehouse facilities will provide cargo carriers, freight forwarders, pharmaceutical, and other industry partners infrastructure required to leverage ANC’s strategic location,” Szczesniak said.

Liberalized cargo transfer rights in Anchorage will allow cargo carriers to consolidate cargo shipments here and ship (from a point) nearer to the end customer, thereby limiting time en route,” he said.

“An advanced cold storage facility adjacent to aircraft parking positions will allow shippers to take advantage of the significant volumes of cargo capacity available to Asia. Perishables from North America and South America can be dispatched from here to numerous destinations in Asia,” Szczesniak said.

“Wild-caught seafood, late season peonies, and other Alaskan exports will also benefit from the conduit created by these storage facilities to the global markets,” he said.

Anchorage’s airport is now looking to further its cargo advantages with the coupling of newly received passenger transfer rights. In November, the U.S. Department of Transportation granted Anchorage passenger transfer rights mirroring the already granted cargo transfer rights.

That means passengers, as cargo did earlier, can transfer from one foreign carrier to another in Anchorage, which adds flexibility and efficiency.

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