Anchorage airport among nation’s busiest as pandemic boosts cargo activity

cargo plane, Kalitta Air, Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport remained one of the nation’s busiest airports in recent months as disrupted shipping patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic fueled soaring cargo activity.

Cargo volume at the airport rose 25% from July to September compared to the same period last year, the airport reported Friday. It’s a rare bright spot in Alaska where close to 40,000 people collected unemployment benefits in recent weeks amid the pandemic’s continued economic fallout.

Nearly 1 million tons of cargo moved through the airport during the three months, continuing the record levels seen in the spring when 900,000 tons of cargo moved through the airport in the second quarter, according to airport statements.

In the year’s first nine months, freight volumes were up 13.6% from that period last year, the airport said in a written statement.

The number of passenger flights that once also carried cargo has dropped since March, bringing increased shipments to the Anchorage airport. More people have also embraced online shopping, boosting international air shipments, said Jim Szczesniak, airport director.

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The airport is also important for the movement of personal protective equipment to prevent coronavirus infections, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in the statement.

Since the first quarter of 2020, the airport has jumped from the 38th busiest in the U.S. to the eighth busiest in recent months, based on aircraft operations, according to the airport.

Investors are pursuing new and expanded cargo developments at the airport worth more than $500 million, including from FedEx and UPS.

A report prepared for the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. in August called the cargo increase a rare bright spot for Anchorage during the pandemic. But the report predicted that the increased cargo volume at the airport would return to traditional levels as the pandemic eases. The airport was the sixth busiest for cargo before the pandemic.

Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or