Anchorage Alaska – The “Air Crossroads to the World”

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The mission of the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport  “is to Develop  – Operate – Maintain The Airport for Anchorage – Alaska – the World”.  That sounds like a very tall order… until one grasps the importance of where the airport sits geographically and understands its importance on local and international levels.  It’s location makes it a prime stop for long-range international air cargo operations; as the largest and busiest airport in Alaska, it’s an important hub for intrastate transportation and commerce.

In 1948, the U.S. Congress appropriated millions of dollars to build an “international” type airport at Anchorage.  The airport opened in 1953, and soon handled about 90% of Alaska’s passenger traffic and two-thirds of the state’s mail.  In 1957, Europe to Asia air travel began using PANC as a stopover point, and the airport began to plot its future as the “Air Crossroads to the World”.  Soon, jetliners made their appearance at the airport, both domestically and internationally.  A major earthquake occurred in 1964, damaging parts of the airport including the control tower; five years later new and repaired structures were back in operation, including a temporary control tower which finally was replaced in 1977 with the current structure.  The 1970s and 1980s brought growth to the state through the oil industry’s expansion; new structures for passengers and freight were built.  The airport was named after the state’s senior Senator in the year 2000.

Today ANC/PANC covers 768 acres of pavement – runways, taxiways, ramps and roads.  It boasts three runways measuring over 10,600 feet in length.  The airport and businesses housed there have created one in every ten jobs found in Anchorage.   It tallies around 500 wide-body cargo jet arrivals each week, and almost 2 million gallons of aviation fuel is dispensed daily.

Anchorage’s international airport (ICAO identifier: PANC, FAA identifier: ANC)  is located almost half way between Tokyo and New York City.  [PANC will be used in this article when speaking about international operations, ANC for domestic, but it is the same airport].  PANC is located within a nine and a half hour flight to 90% of the industrialized world.  Almost two thirds of the airport’s revenue comes from air cargo, and it is an international sorting hub for FedEx, UPS, and five other major air freight companies.

With the advent of long-ranged wide body air freighters like the Boeing 747, 767, 777 and McDonnell Douglas MD-11, Anchorage is a natural stop between Asia and the eastern half of North America.   With polar routes, Europe is easily within reach too.  On December 16, 2011, Cathay Pacific flew their first Boeing 747-8F flight into PANC, ushering in the beginning of the trend for utilization of the larger jets on a routine basis by an ever-increasing amount of air freight carriers.  It has become the 4th busiest air cargo airport in the world in terms of freight landed, and the U.S.’s second after Memphis TN.   PANC stopovers allow a large increase in payload for a small increase in time and fuel, making a “quick turnaround” cost effective.  These stopovers usually take one or two hours, and routinely include a crew change.  The airport prides itself in remaining open even during severe winter weather.

According to the Alaska Department Of Transportation, 82% of communities located in Alaska aren’t connected by roads, making aviation a critical asset.  ANC is one of the most important air terminuses in the state, but it serves as a major hub for connecting passengers and freight too.  A wide variety of aircraft operate throughout the state, ranging from single-engined  propeller-driven planes capable of operating to/from short and unimproved fields to mid-sized jetliners.  It is one of a very  few places left in the U.S. where multi radial-engined freighters still earn their keep.  Alaska Airlines operates a number of Boeing 737-400 Combis configured to carry about half passengers and half freight, flying between ANC to smaller airports capable of jet traffic.  TransNorthern Aviation offers the same capability on smaller Douglas Super DC-3 (ex-military C-117) twin radial-engined transports.

As the most important passenger hub in the state, around two and a half million passenger enplanements occur each year… predominantly during the summer tourist season.  Passenger enplanements at ANC are five times higher than the second busiest state airport, Fairbanks.  During the summer, international passenger service from Canada, Iceland, Germany and Russia operates regularly.  Lake Hood Seaplane base and it’s gravel airstrip, part of the airport complex, handles flights from the ANC hub to lodges, camps, and smaller airports.  Lake Hood Seaplane Base is the busiest airport of its kind in the world.

The Ted Stevens airport has served “Anchorage – Alaska – the World” for close to 60 years now; acting as the “Air Crossroads to the World” for most of them.  With air commerce between the Eastern and Western hemispheres likely to continue to flourish, Anchorage sits in a prime spot for serving as the crossroads between the two.  As Alaska’s busiest inter- and intrastate air travel hub, it sits at the crossroads of Alaska’s own commercial aviation industry too.


Ken Kula

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