How Alaska Became The Center Of The World


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Youtube content by using the link in the description. In the mid 1950s, a new airport in a barren
corner of the globe opened and quickly gained traction, drawing profit-hunting airlines
to its terminals. The airport, in Anchorage, Alaska, connected
the world during the Cold War, at a time when airlines could not fly over the Soviet Union. It linked the West to the Far East, transforming
local airlines into intercontinental giants. So while Alaska is considered by many to be
the Last Frontier, in truth, it is in the center of the world. Built in 1951, Anchorage International Airport
was home to Alaska Airlines, Northwest Orient, Pacific Northern Airlines, and Reeve Aleutian
Airways. To understand why Anchorage was such a crucial
stop for airlines, we have to look at the political situation of the time. This was the cold war, and the Soviet Union
was hardly friendly with western states. If you wanted to fly from Europe to Asia or
vice versa, you had to go over Russia – except, you couldn’t. The Soviet Union rarely let airlines other
than its own fly over the state, making transeurasian air travel impossible – until 1957. Scandinavian Airlines System, now more commonly
known as SAS, opened a route from Copenhagen to Tokyo via Anchorage. Northwest Orient followed suit, opening routes
from the US to Asia with a stop in the Alaskan city. Anchorage wasn’t an attractive destination
for airlines in any respect. Rather, it was in a perfect geographical position
which made it excellent for travelling from the US and Europe to Asia, at a time when
aircraft had limited range and airlines could not fly over the Soviet Union. Anchorage had found its purpose as an international
air hub providing refuelling and maintenance services to visiting airliners. By the 1960s, Anchorage advertised itself
as the air crossroads of the world, with Japan Airlines, KLM, Air France, Lufthansa, British
Airways, and SAS regularly using Anchorage as a refuelling stop on their Europe to Asia
routes. This was the dawn of the jet age, and Anchorage
International Airport was soaring to unprecedented heights, expanding its east/west runway to
10,600ft, long enough to support even the largest airliners. And remember, at this time, Anchorage only
had a population of 45,000, yet multiple European airlines were frequent fliers there. The Good Friday Earthquake toppled the airport’s
air traffic control tower. Fortunately, neighbouring Lake Hood Seaplane
base had an ATC facility which was used until a replacement was constructed. It began to seem as if nothing could stop
Anchorage’s unprecedented growth. In the 1970s, oil was discovered in Alaska,
and news of the trans-alaskan oil pipeline drew tens of thousands of job seekers and
business hopefuls to Anchorage. International passenger traffic increased
immensely and Anchorage’s population had more than trebled by 1980. Alaska was a state of prosperity with rich
resource supplies and a beautiful natural landscape. But in 1989, everything changed. The face of global aviation was evolving.. New long ranged aircraft like the Boeing 747,
767, McDonnell Douglas MD-11 were being produced, enabling long haul flights to become viable. During this time, the fall of the Soviet Union
led to Russian airspace opening for wider use. European airlines no longer needed to fly
to Asia via Anchorage – they could do it directly at less of a cost. Anchorage’s passenger numbers fell dramatically,
and a new passenger concourse developed only a few years before was left with no planes
to fill it. However, that same year, something else happened
which changed Anchorage for years to come. FedEx Express and UPS Airlines opened major
cargo sorting hubs in Anchorage. That might seem like an odd move – Anchorage
is incredibly far from the rest of the contiguous United States. While that’s correct, we again have to step
back and look at Anchorage’s geographical location. Take a look at these routes. Miami to Tokyo, Houston to Shanghai, Beijing
to Mexico City. These routes are a perfect illustration of
why Anchorage is perfect for cargo carriers – it sits directly under the flight path of
hundreds of city pairs between Asia and the US. In a world where most large airliners can
fly transpacific, it seems strange that an air freight company would choose to slow down
their transportation with a stop halfway along the route. Until, that is, you consider that the less
fuel a plane has to carry, the more cargo it can carry. By stopping at Anchorage, aircraft can carry
less fuel on each leg, resulting in a greater cargo weight capacity and better fuel efficiency
per unit of cargo. Even though planes have the highest fuel flow
on takeoff and landing, the distance of Anchorage from the aircraft origin and final destination
make stopping along the way the most economically viable option. This also resulted in the city becoming a
major scissor hub for freight. Here’s an example. Say a parcel had to be shipped from Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania, to Hong Kong with UPS, in about 48 hours. UPS would collect your package, take it to
one of their sorting hubs, where the package would be loaded onto a truck and taken to
Pittsburgh airport’s cargo terminal. It would be put on UPS flight 1151 to UPS’
superhub, Louisville, operated by an MD-11F, at 9:50pm local time, where it would then
be offloaded in Louisville just before 11pm. At 3:30am local time, the package would be
put on UPS flight 64 operated by an all-new Boeing 747-8 Freighter where it would arrive
in Anchorage at 5:50am. The package is offloaded and the previous
aircraft proceeds to fly to one of many Asian destinations like Taipei, Shanghai, Osaka
and Beijing, whilst at 10:00am your package is loaded onto UPS flight 62 on a 747-8F to
Hong Kong where it would be driven to its final destination after landing at 2pm. After 3 flights and 28 hours, the package
made its way from one side of the world to the other. By using Anchorage to carry more cargo and
less fuel, fuel efficiency and profitability is expanded. So how does this operation work? With over 48,000 takeoffs of widebody freighters
each year, Anchorage’s cargo operation is in a class of its own. Anchorage Airport has a special status as
a cargo hub – it has expanded cargo transfer and service opportunities. This grants the airport exclusive rights to
transfer foreign packages and mix them with domestic packages, maximizing efficiency and
reducing costs in the process. There are three main regulations for transferring
packages at Anchorage. Firstly, on-line transfers. This is what happened in the example outlined
previously, where a package moved between two aircraft from the same airline. Secondly, a package is permitted to move from
one airline’s aircraft to any other airline’s aircraft, enabling many more connections to
be possible by using other airline’s routes. Finally, airlines can commingled cargo, mixing
cargo with final destinations in the United States, and foreign bound cargo, for example
to the Carribean, Canada, or Mexico. This provides airlines with incredible flexibility
with many possible connections available from their routes. It is just as easy to fly a package from Nome,
Alaska, to New York via Anchorage as it is to fly one from Taipei, Taiwan to San Juan
in Puerto Ricio. The US government has also been a supporter
of international aviation in Anchorage, giving the airport regulatory exemptions, meaning
carriers can ship cargo through Alaska without breaking its international jurisdiction. The growth of e-commerce has resulted in increased
cargo traffic from companies like Amazon, eBay, Alibaba and more. Jim Szczesniak, the airport manager, stated
that the airport sees up to 6 747 freighters headed to Amazon’s hub in Cincinnati alone
on a typical day, with around 47 cargo widebody operations from UPS and FedEx. However, Anchorage is still primarily a refuelling
stop, especially for Asian carriers like Eva Air Cargo and Cathay Pacific Cargo. For this reason, 14 wide-body ramps are located
in the middle of the airport, allowing them to quickly refuel and depart, given that aircraft
only make money when they’re in the air. The airport enables refuelling at twice the
speed of most other major airports in the world, as ground pumps enable fuel to be pumped
into two tanks at once. By making a technical stop in Anchorage, many
airplanes can carry an extra 100,000lbs of cargo, boosting revenue and maximizing profitability. Despite all of this, Anchorage’s status
as a cargo megahub may soon be in jeopardy. FedEx has already cut one route to Anchorage. The airline said that cargo never switched
aircraft on the route and it was simply a refuelling and crew swap spot. FedEx spokesman Scott Fielder declined to
speculate on future route cuts in Anchorage but said that FedEx continually adjusts its
routes as the market shifts. Cargo traffic has risen by 15% in the last
10 years, propped up by growth in global air freight, but with 10% of jobs in Anchorage
being provided by the airport, if the airport suffers, Anchorage does too. What might persuade airlines to continue flying
to Anchorage is ancillary operations. By offering repair centres under the flight
path between the US and Asia, it would make sense for airlines to fly there, as they can
sort cargo and also complete aircraft maintenance. For example, if an aircraft for whatever reason
has an unusually long layover in the city, the airline can exploit the time to complete
aircraft maintenance, meaning that the aircraft can fly when maintenance scheduled elsewhere
would’ve grounded the plane. Ultimately, Anchorage will most likely never
reach the same fate as Shannon and Gander, airports which many will never have heard
of, but were once essential in air transport like Anchorage is today, however its rise
and fall is a symbol of the volatility and unpredictability of our increasingly turbulent
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4 thoughts on “How Alaska Became The Center Of The World

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