Anchorage planning new facilities to support transfer program

To benefit its unique cargo transfer program, Alaska’s Anchorage International Airport (ANC) is planning the construction of new infrastructure, including an air cargo building, e-commerce facility and parking spaces. 

Located between Asia and the Americas, ANC leverages its strategic location by offering a cargo transfer program that allows foreign airlines to transfer cargo between carriers at the airport, before continuing from the airport on to other destinations in the United States. Although this practice is illegal in other U.S. states under the 1920 Jones Act, Congress granted an exception to Alaska and Hawaii in 1996 in order to give the states a competitive edge against those in the mainland.  

However, current airport infrastructure does not allow carriers to easily leverage the program because ANC’s cargo facilities are located about three miles via road feeder service from the main cargo parking apron. Recognizing the operational inefficiency this causes to carriers, the airport is planning the construction of a new “Quick Cargo Center” building located directly next to the aircraft parking apron – reducing the distance for transferring cargo from three miles to a few meters. Ultimately, the airport intends for the new infrastructure to enable carriers to better leverage its unique transfer program in their network strategies and possibly develop hub and spoke operations out of ANC. 

Airport authorities are preparing a Request for Qualifications for the construction of the Quick Cargo Center that will be issued in the second quarter of this year. The facility will be adjacent to the airport’s existing parking apron for air cargo, with both airside and landside accessAlthough details regarding the design of ANC’s new cargo building have yet to be decided, airport tenants have already expressed an interest in the inclusion of cool-chain facilities, according to the airport. 

The airport will also add three to five 747-8 parking positions next to the location for the new cargo building, which will increase the airport’s available parking spaces from 63 up to 68. The airport said it is now in the design phase for these parking spots and anticipates construction will begin sometime next year. 

Following completion of the new cargo facility and parking positions, the airport said it also plans to construct a facility specifically for e-commerce. The facility is still in its early stages of conception, and details regarding its design and construction timeline have yet to be outlined. 

Over the past year, e-commerce and perishable markets have driven growth in cargo volumes at the airport, with approximately 70 percent of flights at ANC in trans-Pacific service, according to the airportLast year, Cathay Pacific and Cargolux increased flights from ANC to Guadalajara (GDL) with perishables on board both ways. The airport also welcomed SF Express, which grew the airport’s network reach to include routes to Wuhan (WUH), Hefei (HFE), Zhengzhou (CGO) and Changsha (CSX). This year, the airport said it expects to see increased traffic from DHL as the express carrier prepares to take delivery of its 747-8Fs over the coming months. 

DHL and SF Express also signed an agreement last year, allowing DHL to leverage SF Express’ domestic Chinese infrastructure. This development, paired with the operations of both carriers at ANC and DHL’s plans for redelivery of its 747-8Fs, suggests the airport will likely see increased cargo volumes from both carriers in the coming year. 

Beyond supporting airport growth through additional flights and infrastructure plans, airport authorities are seeking to continue expanding the roster of carriers with operations at the airport.  

One challenge the airport has in attracting carriers to the airport is the misconception that its cargo transfer program is illegal. ANC Airport Manager Jim Szczesniak said that airport authorities meet regularly with Asian carriers to better explain the program’s legality and alleviate concerns that the program is unlawful. 

Szczesniak also said ANC planning to meet with European carriers in the coming months to discuss possibilities of welcoming them to the airport, as currently no European carriers fly out of ANC. The airport said it can provide European carriers better access to low density routes and utilization of backhaul imbalance capacity. Whether European carriers agree with this strategic view remains to be seen, although should ANC’s efforts prove fruitful, more information regarding the issue will likely emerge in the latter half of the year.