Alaska’s Anchorage International Airport lacks the waterfalls and razzmatazz of Singapore Changi or the eight runways of Chicago O’Hare.But this unassuming little airport — equidistant between New York and Tokyo — has lately had an unexpected rise in prominence.It’s now the busiest airport in the world… on some Saturdays, at least.”Saturday’s a busy day for cargo operations, which is our bread and butter, but it’s also the slowest day for passenger service,” explains airport manager Jim Szczesniak over video call.”So for example, on Saturday, May 2, we in Anchorage had 744 flight operations, whereas Chicago had only 579 and Atlanta had only 529.”Anchorage also briefly snatched the world’s busiest title on Saturday, April 25.
Airports Council International’s annual report on the world’s busiest airports, released earlier this week, makes for sobering reading.The coronavirus pandemic means that passenger traffic is currently down by more than 90%, according to Angela Gittens, ACI World’s director general. “The demand is pretty much gone.”One area that has been on the rise, however, is cargo traffic, which is why Anchorage Airport — in ordinary times, the world’s fifth-busiest cargo airport — is on the ascendant.”We’re seeing an increased demand for cargo capacity,” says Szczesniak. “And that’s primarily because a lot of the supplies for the fight against Covid in North America are produced in Asia.”Anchorage is positioned to perfect geographical advantage, at what the airport says is 9.5 hours’ flying time from 90% of the industrialized world.Its location, quite literally at the top of the world, means that planes “fly up and over the top [of the globe] to shorten the distance,” says Szczesniak.”The advantage of Anchorage is airplanes can fly filled with cargo but only half-filled with fuel. They fly into Anchorage and then they re-fuel and then onto their destination.”