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Anchorage: Little Town Transferring its Strategic Location into Economic Success

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

By Anthony Liu


As is known to many, Alaska is the largest state in the United States. There are glaciers, snow-capped peaks, forest fields, rivers and lakes. It is home for many wild animals and sea life, and a popular tourist destination for many people. It ranks first in the world in oil reserves. In Alaska, there is also a small city named Anchorage. Although this city is the largest one in Alaska, its population is only a little over 300,000. It is the political, economic and commercial trade center of the state. By many measures, Anchorage seems to be irrelevant to the rest of the world. But just because of its humble location in the world, it has become a world stopover, and one of the largest hubs around the globe in terms of air cargo volume.

Ted Stevenson International Airport

It all started with an airport that opened in 1953 on the city's west side, named Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in honor of veteran Senator Ted Stevens. In the fifties and sixties of the last century, with the emergence of jet, the air transportation industry started blooming, but international airplanes from or to East Asia and the US could not cross the Pacific Ocean due to its long distance and the absence of land/airports for landing in case of emergencies.

Alaska might appear far north, but it has a huge geographical advantage because international flights have to fly through the North Pole for the shortest possible distance. Anchorage, on average, is about 9.5 hours flying time to and from 90% of the industrialized world. The cost of landing in Anchorage is already lower than at almost every other major airport, and the airport continues to expand to accommodate more cargo flights from Asia.

UPS and FedEx Transit Mode

Being the largest state in North America, Alaska has massive land to build warehouses, railways, harbors and other infrastructures. At present, two of the largest cargo airlines in the world are UPS and Federal Express, each with hundreds of large cargo planes flying around the world every day. Both carriers have extensive route networks in the United States and the Asia-Pacific region, and Anchorage is an important transshipment point. FedEx, looking for a new shipping hub in the West to expand markets in Asia, picked Anchorage after intense lobbying from Alaska. Since then, UPS, DHL and Northwest Airlines have also arrived to establish new air networks.

Cargo Capacity and Fuel Capacity

There is a conflict between the fuel capacity and the cargo capacity when the aircraft is trying to carry cargo over a long distance. If more fuel is loaded, the less cargo can be loaded, because the weight of the aircraft is fixed. If more fuel is loaded, the weight of the aircraft would increase and the fuel consumption will be high during the flight, since the mass of fuel is relatively high. Thus, the most economical way to carry cargos on a long flight is to not fill up the fuel tank, and stop in the middle to get fuel, then continue for the rest of the flight. About 80% of air cargo planes flying from Asia will land at the Anchorage airport for refueling, because air carriers have calculated that the extra 1-2 hours of travel time taken up by refueling is more than compensated by the extra cargo revenue earned.

When cargo aircrafts arrive at the Anchorage airport’s terminals, some planes refuel and continue, while others unload the cargo for sorting and pass on to the next plane to go to a transfer center in the US or a destination terminal. The same goes for shipments from the US, which make their way through the transshipment center to Anchorage, where the airport acts as a rest stop.

The Port of Alaska

In terms of ocean shipping, the local port is also being expanded. The port of Alaska in Anchorage is the largest port in Alaska, which is responsible for more than 95% of the state's goods. Ships from Asia bound for a busy port such as Los Angeles often drift for days to get to a cargo location and wait a week or two at a cargo yard to get out. When shipped to Anchorage, it would take about the same time at sea, but within three days after entering the port, goods could be shipped overland to the mainland, faster and more efficient than from the big ports. Also, as ice in the artic continues to melt due to global warming, the use of the Northern Sea Route, which passes the Bering Strait and Barents Sea, and Northwest Passage will likely to increase, due to its shorter traveling time, and longer navigable season.


Anchorage, with its unique geographical location, vigorously develops its cargo aviation, coupled with the reasonable layout of cargo companies, has achieved very considerable results. It also serves as a bridge for international logistics and trade between the Asia-Pacific region and the US. Anchorage is not an Alaskan city, nor an American city, but a global city. A border town with a fanatical vision of becoming the global hub seems to be slowly coming true.



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