(CNN) – Alaska’s Anchorage International Airport does not have the Singapore Changi waterfalls and razzmatazz or the eight runways of Chicago O’Hare.
But this small, unpretentious airport – equidistant between New York and Tokyo – has recently had an unexpected increase in importance.
It is now the busiest airport in the world … at least some Saturdays.
“Saturday is a busy day for loading, which is our bread and butter, but it is also the slowest day for passenger service,” explains airport director Jim Szczesniak during the video call.
“For example, on Saturday May 2, we carried out 744 flight operations in Anchorage, while Chicago only had 579 and Atlanta only 529.”
Additionally, Anchorage briefly captured the world’s busiest title on Saturday April 25th.
Top of the world
The coronavirus pandemic means that passenger traffic is currently declining by more than 90%, according to Angela Gittens, general manager of ACI World. “The question is practically gone.”
An increasing area, however, is freight traffic, which is why Anchorage Airport – in ordinary times, the fifth busiest merchant airport in the world – is on the rise.
“We are seeing an increase in demand for carrying capacity,” says Szczesniak. “And this is mainly because many supplies for the fight against Covid in North America are produced in Asia.”
The anchor is positioned for a perfect geographical advantage, according to what the airport says is 9.5 hours of flight from 90% of the industrialized world.
Its position, literally on top of the world, means that planes “fly high and high [of the globe] to reduce the distance, “says Szczesniak.
“The advantage of Anchorage is that airplanes can fly full of goods but only half-filled with fuel. They fly to Anchorage and then refuel and then to their destination.”
The small airport it could
“We are using several areas of the airport to accommodate parking lots that we normally wouldn’t want,” says Szczesniak.
The airport recently hosted the heaviest plane ever built, the Antonov An-225 Mriya cargo plane and even some sport titans – the New England Patriots plane stopped here because it was carrying supplies between Boston and Asia .
In order to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the crew of the aircraft passing through Anchorage “minimizes its ability to interact with the Alaskans,” explains Szczesniak. They use private transportation to and from hotels and avoid mixing with the land crew.
“Post-coronavirus, we think Alaska will become a rather popular tourist destination,” says Szczesniak. “You know, they tell you to stay one and a half meters from the people. In Alaska you can come here and enjoy a fantastic vacation and not be less than six miles from someone.”
There are approximately 60 glaciers within a 50-mile radius of the airport and this wonderfully wild state of the United States is covered in mighty national parks and reserves. There is hiking, fishing, rafting and more; it is ideal for backwoods adventurers.
The airport is preparing for the return of the passenger service by updating its cleaning program to combat Covid-19 standards, using all hospital-grade disinfectants.
In the terminal they added UV LED sanitizing lights to the escalator handrails. Szczesniak says, “As the handrail travels through the machinery, it will be detonated with UV light to kill all the microbes, viruses or bacteria that happen to them.”
$ 97 billion in losses
At the time of our video call between London and Anchorage, there were 90 planes flying from the UK capital to Alaska airport, according to Flightradar24 real-time flight monitoring site.
“There are more planes in the sky right now to and from Anchorage than there are to JFK and LaGuardia,” says Szczesniak.
The busiest airport in the world, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, has seen 110.5 million passengers in 2019. But in the first quarter of 2020, Atlanta airport registered 20.7 million passengers, down by over 18% compared to the same period last year.
The aviation industry is facing a $ 97 billion reduction in revenue in 2020 and the recovery will likely be a slow and painful process.
The Anchorage team is proud of its efforts to facilitate the transportation of medical supplies during this period of global need, but hopes that its time as an occasional record holder will be mercifully short.
CNN’s Marnie Hunter contributed to this report