Anchorage Airport Saw A Cargo Boost In 2020 – Will It Stay?

Anchorage saw a decline in passenger transport in 2020. However, one spot that shone brightly for the airport, and helps give it a place in the world, is its position as a cargo transfer point for flights between the US and Asia. After seeing record-setting cargo tonnage in 2020, Simple Flying spoke with Jim Szczesniak, Airport Manager of ANC, about the cargo growth in 2020 and what the future could hold.

Anchorage Airport Saw A Cargo Boost In 2020 – Will It Stay?
Anchorage had a great 2020. What does the future hold? Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Anchorage saw heavy freight traffic in 2020

According to data from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC), more than 3.48 million tons of air cargo passed through the airport in 2020. This was a whopping 16% increase over the record-setting volumes the airport saw in 2019.

Anchorage is a major center for air freight transfer between North America and Asia. The airport sees a wide variety of cargo operations, but in 2020, there was a shift in the kind of cargo the airport was flying. There was a huge boost in the airport’s handling of pharmaceutical goods and PPE.

Anchorage Airport Saw A Cargo Boost In 2020 – Will It Stay?
2020 was a record-setting year for cargo for Anchorage, even though passenger numbers were down. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

A large portion of the airport’s growth also came from increased air cargo operations to cover lost belly cargo capacity that would normally fly in the cargo hold of passenger aircraft. Another set of growth in air cargo came from shipping traffic, which decreased in the pandemic.

Managing cargo in 2020

With the increase in cargo operations, Anchorage was able to successfully handle the new flights, as Mr. Szczesniak discussed:

“So for our traditional infrastructure where we handle the cargo aircraft, we did get to peak periods where all our parking positions were full, but we were able to deal with that by using some of the vacant passenger infrastructure to be able to handle that. If we ran out of our traditional cargo parking spots, we would have the ability to park them at some of the terminal gates to make that work.”

Air Cargo
Anchorage is already well-known from a cargo perspective. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The massive An-225 made several stops in Anchorage during the pandemic.

Even though it was a huge and rare sight, Anchorage is well-known for getting different aircraft types. Speaking on the An-225 and the diversity of aircraft, Mr. Szczesniak explained the following:

“That airplane, because it’s so rare, it’s it’s pretty cool when you see it in person. It’s a special kind of day for the airport when it comes through. But our airport on a regular day, I’ve got, DC-3s DC-6s, I got that Dash 8 freighters on the taxiway right behind them, I’ve got the Antonov, the An-124s are here, and then I’ve got the Dreamlifter coming through on a regular basis.”

ANC COnverted
Anchorage sees a variety of new and old aircraft. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Where does 2021 shake out?

According to Mr. Szczesniak, Anchorage expects to see relatively similar cargo volumes in 2021 as it saw in 2020:

“I think it probably is going to be about the same, but the big question mark out there. ultimately is what’s happening with ship traffic. One of the logistical consulting firms had done an analysis that if air cargo were to take just 1% of [cargo] from sea [transport], that’d be a 16% increase for air cargo.”

Ships carry a lot of cargo, and, generally, most of the big ships traveling around the world can carry larger and heavier freight than air cargo. However, some goods and cargo are generally transported on ships but could migrate to air cargo operations.

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Ship traffic is not 100% restored. There are still some concerns on supply chain issues, needs for infrastructure redevelopment at ports, and other factors that can influence whether more cargo stays in the shipping lanes versus moving over to air cargo.

ANC Boeing 747
Anchorage benefited from the growth of new services and cargo links to Asia in the pandemic. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

There is another layer to the air cargo element, and that is e-commerce:

“Traditionally, you would say ‘Hey, you’re gonna see this spike come up because of the pandemic and then it’ll plateau and go back down to more normal [levels].’ But the problem is that e-commerce is accelerating at such a rapid pace that the expected, traditional dip might not be there because of the fact that e-commerce is just going to fill that gap. We’re bullish on air cargo going forward.”

So, at the end of the day, Anchorage saw a great 2020, and it hopes that 2021 will shake out in a similar vein. In 2020, ANC had the opportunity to strengthen its position in the crisis. Mr. Szczesniak discussed the position the airport now finds itself in post-crisis:

“I think it gave us an opportunity to strengthen our position. When have that ability to claim that you’re the world’s busiest airport in certain points. People understand that during a pandemic our report held up really well, and what we saw was a lot of carriers taking that risk and gambling on a new destination. Nefore where they would try and funnel all their cargo through Shanghai, we would see those direct flights from from Hefei and from Chengdu and all kinds of different Chinese and Asian gateways, going through our airport.”

Anchorage has a very good shot at being able to hold onto its king cargo position. However, it will have to contend again with changing market conditions and a post-crisis world, including as it angles for more international service – potentially to Asia.

What do you think the future holds for Anchorage from a cargo perspective? Let us know in the comments!