It is hard to overestimate the importance of air cargo services in Alaska. Unlike cities in the Lower 48 that rely on vast transportation infrastructures that enable them to receive goods from around the world by truck, barge, railroad, or plane, many of the 49th state's rural communities are extremely limited in how they can receive the day-to-day goods they need to survive. Air cargo services at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and the Fairbanks International Airport--both members of the Alaska International Airport System--also provide huge economic benefits to the state.
"The airport's economic impact is huge--15,500 jobs or one in ten jobs in Anchorage," says John Parrott, airport manager, Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (TSAIA). "That equates to about $562 million in direct annual payroll and about $288 million in annual payroll for community jobs."
While feeling some effects of the recession, TSAIA is holding its own. "We are ranked the second most active cargo airport in the United States behind Memphis, Tennessee, and the fifth busiest airport in the world for cargo throughput," Parrott says. "Being ranked in the top five in the world behind Hong Kong, Memphis, Shanghai, and Inchon, Korea, is heady company for a little airport in Alaska."
According to Parrott, landing weights are down about 25 percent from the airport's heyday of 2007, primarily as a result of the global economy. "North America is not buying as much, so China is not making as much, which means there's no need to ship as much," he explains. "While we have seen some modal shifts, such as companies shifting to surface transport, the simple fact is that the sluggish global economy has decreased the amount of cargo being shipped."
Advantages of Flying through Alaska
For many carriers, especially those overseas, TSAIA is the most logical place to land. "It's all about location, location, location," Parrott says. "We're within nine and a half hours of 90 percent of the industrialized world.
"A single wide-body aircraft is able to carry one hundred thousand pounds more cargo by landing in Alaska," he continues. "To overfly us, a carrier would need to load up on fuel and take cargo off, and no one pays to fly fuel. If a company is able to put one hundred thousand more pounds of cargo on a plane, it goes directly to their bottom line."
The fact that Fairbanks International Airport is extremely close is also advantageous to carriers. "Over its fifty-year history, other than on 9/11, the Anchorage and Fairbanks airports have never been closed at the same time," Parrott says. "They are separated by two hundred miles and...