(CNN) – Alaska’s Anchorage International Airport lacks the Singapore Changi waterfalls and rampage or the Chicago O’Hare eight runways.
But this unassuming little airport, equidistant from New York to Tokyo, has seen an unexpected increase in importance lately.
It is now the busiest airport in the world … at least some Saturdays.
“Saturday is a busy day for cargo operations, which is our daily bread, but it is also the slowest day for passenger service,” explains airport manager Jim Szczesniak in a video call.
“So, for example, on Saturday, May 2, in Anchorage we had 744 flight operations, while Chicago only had 579 and Atlanta had only 529.”
Anchorage also briefly snatched the world’s busiest title on Saturday, April 25.
Top of the world
The coronavirus pandemic means that passenger traffic is currently reduced by more than 90%, according to Angela Gittens, CEO of ACI World. “Demand is almost gone.”
However, one area that has been increasing is cargo traffic, which is why Anchorage Airport, in normal times, the world’s fifth busiest cargo airport, is on the rise.
“We are seeing increased demand for carrying capacity,” says Szczesniak. “And that’s mainly because a lot of the supplies for the fight against Covid in North America are produced in Asia.”
Anchorage is positioned for perfect geographic advantage, in what the airport says is a 9.5 hour flight time from 90% of the industrialized world.
Its location, literally on top of the world, means that planes “fly up and over [of the globe] to shorten the distance, “says Szczesniak.
“Anchorage’s advantage is that planes can fly full of cargo but only half full of fuel. They fly to Anchorage and then refuel and then to their destination.”
The little airport that could
“We are using different areas of the airport to accommodate parking that we would not normally do,” says Szczesniak.
The airport has recently hosted the heaviest aircraft ever built, the Antonov An-225 Mriya cargo plane and also some titans of the sport – the New England Patriots plane stopped here because it was carrying supplies between Boston and Asia.
To prevent the spread of Covid-19, the crew of the plane passing through Anchorage “minimizes its ability to interact with Alaskans,” explains Szczesniak. They use private transportation to and from hotels and avoid mixing with ground staff.
“After the coronavirus, we believe Alaska will become a fairly popular tourist destination,” says Szczesniak. “You know, they tell you to stay six feet away from people. In Alaska you can come here and have a fantastic vacation and not be less than six miles from someone.”
There are over 60 glaciers within a 50-mile radius of the airport, and the wildest state in the United States is covered in powerful national parks and reserves. There is hiking, fishing, whitewater rafting and more; It is ideal for forest adventurers.
The airport is preparing for the return of passenger service by updating its cleaning schedule to Covid-19 battle-ready standards, using all hospital-grade disinfectants.
At the terminal, they added disinfecting UV LED lights to the escalator handrails. Szczesniak says: “As the railing travels through the machinery, it will be ejected with ultraviolet light to kill any microbes, viruses, or bacteria that follow it.”
$ 97 billion in losses
At the time of our video call between London and Anchorage, there were 90 planes in the air heading from the UK capital to Alaska airport, according to real-time flight tracking site Flightradar24.
“Right now there are more planes in the sky to and from Anchorage than there are for JFK and LaGuardia,” says Szczesniak.
The world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, received 110.5 million passengers in 2019. But in the first quarter of 2020, Atlanta airport registered 20.7 million passengers, more than 18% compared to same period last year.
The aviation industry faces a $ 97 billion reduction in revenue in 2020 and recovery is likely to be a slow and painful process.
The Anchorage team prides itself on its efforts to facilitate the transportation of medical supplies during this time of global need, but they hope their time as casual record holders will be mercifully short.
CNN’s Marnie Hunter contributed to this report.