Business/Economy

Anchorage’s international airport set another cargo record in 2021

birds, winter, wildlife

While last year’s passenger numbers didn’t fully rebound to what they were pre-pandemic, Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport still reported a significant comeback in 2021.

The airport nearly doubled its passenger traffic in 2021 from the year before and set another cargo record as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to upend the economy.

Buoyed by a surge of summer tourism, the airport notched 4.5 million travelers last year, 93% higher than 2020, said Jim Szczesniak, the airport’s director.

“For the environment we were in, it was definitely a positive for Alaska,” he said.

Last year’s passenger numbers remained about 20% below pre-pandemic levels set in 2019, when 5.7 million traveled through the airport.

But the growth last summer helped tourism businesses counter losses tied to a lack of cruise ships.

Szczesniak credited efforts by the state of Alaska and the tourism industry that focused marketing attention last summer on independent travelers — those who aren’t part of a pre-arranged cruise package to the state.

Passenger travel this upcoming summer also looks positive for growth, with airlines adding 6% seat capacity for Anchorage compared to 2019, Szczesniak said.

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Eurowings Discovery will be a new airline at the airport this summer, with nonstop flights to Frankfurt, Germany, a jumping-off point for travel to Europe and Africa, the airport said in a prepared statement.

Condor will also offer that route. Other airlines are also scheduled to continue their international hops from Anchorage to Vancouver, Canada; Reykjavik, Iceland; and Petropavlovsk, Russia.

The Anchorage airport also continued to experience booming air cargo growth, lifted in part by continued growth in e-commerce and a surge in U.S. demand for products from Asia during the pandemic.

A fuel stop for many carriers and a global hub for UPS and FedEx, the airport handled about 3.6 million metric tons of air cargo last year. That was more than 400,000 metric tons and 14% higher than the previous record set in 2020, the airport said.

During the pandemic, the airport rose to become the fourth-busiest for cargo, up from sixth place, trailing Memphis, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Several projects are underway to expand cargo services at the airport, Szczesniak said.

Szczesniak, after four years leading the state-owned airport in Anchorage, has announced that he is leaving Anchorage to take a top post as chief operating officer at the Houston Airport System. He is leaving his post in mid-February.

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 alex@adn.com.

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