Unlike the rest of Anchorage's economy, air cargo sector is taking off

Published: Aug. 16, 2017 at 6:32 PM AKDT
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Alaska's largest city is in the midst of a recession, but at least one sector is taking off: air cargo.

The Anchorage Economic Development Corporation in a July report predicts air cargo traffic will see modest growth in each of the three coming years, a trend that is attributable at least in part to a rise in people opting to shop online rather than at brick-and-mortar stores.

These trends were the subject of a forum hosted by the Cargo Airline Association on Wednesday at Ted Stevens International Airport.

State lawmakers and industry leaders from Washington and business executives from across the country and the Asia-Pacific region were in attendance.

One longtime concern among Anchorage leaders is the prospect of seeing this city passed over as aviation technology improves, allowing long haul flights directly from Asia to the Lower 48.

While that may eventually happen, the association's president said it is unlikely anytime soon.

"Not in my lifetime. I'm old, so I don't want to extend it past that," Steve Alterman joked. "It's the logical stop-over point. I don't see anything on the horizon in terms of equipment that you would stop over Anchorage."

One trend helping the industry, and vicariously, Alaska, is the increase in e-commerce, Alterman said, adding that the growth is enough that the industry is just trying to keep up with increasing demand.

Bill Popp, CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation, said that whatever the long-term holds, this is certainly a bright spot worth celebrating in the short-term.

In Anchorage, a larger portion of the workforce is employed in aviation than anywhere in the U.S., and the hope is that other sectors will eventually see the benefits.

"With the amount of aircraft flying through Anchorage, carrying cargo from Asia and to and from North America, what we see is an opportunity for Anchorage to be a distribution or supply hub for certain lines of business: businesses like pharmaceuticals, perhaps automotive electronics, maybe aerospace and aviation parts distribution," Popp said.

AEDC predicts air freight volume passing through Anchorage will increase from 2.81 million tons last year to 2.93 million tons in 2020.