(CNN) – Alaska International Airport in Alaska is missing Singapore’s Changi Falls or the eight runways of Chicago’s O’Hare.
But this unpretentious little airport – equidistant from New York and Tokyo – has had an unexpected rise in popularity recently.
It is now the busiest airport in the world … at least on some Saturdays.
“Saturday is a busy day for cargo operations, which is our bread and butter, but it is also the slowest day for passenger service,” airport manager Jim Szczesniak explained in a video call.
“So, for example, on Saturday, May 2, we had 744 flight operations in Anchorage, while in Chicago only 579, and in Atlanta only 529.”
Anchorage also briefly grabbed the world’s busiest title on Saturday, April 25th.
On top of the world
The coronavirus pandemic means that passenger traffic is currently declining by more than 90%, according to Angela Gittens, CEO of ACI World. “Demand is almost non-existent.”
One area that is growing, however, is freight traffic, which is why Anchorage Airport – usually the fifth busiest cargo airport – is on the rise.
“We are seeing increased demand for cargo capacity,” says Szczesniak. “And that’s primarily because much of the supply for the fight against Covid in North America is made in Asia.”
The mooring is located with a perfect geographical advantage, according to the airport 9.5 hours of flight time of 90% of the industrialized world.
Its location, literally at the top of the world, means that planes “fly up and over the top [of the globe] to shorten the distance, “said Szczesniak.
“The advantage of Anchorage is that the 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 he could
“We use different areas of the airport to accommodate a parking lot that we wouldn’t normally want,” Szczesniak said.
The airport recently hosted the heaviest aircraft ever built, the Antonov An-225 Mriya cargo plane, as well as some sports titans – the New England Patriots plane stopped here because it was supplying supplies between Boston and Asia.
To prevent the spread of Covid-19, the crew of the plane passing through Anchorage “minimized their ability to interact with Alaskans,” explains Szczesniak. They use private transport to and from hotels and avoid mixing with the ground crew.
“Post-coronavirus, we think Alaska will become a very popular tourist destination,” says Szczesniak. “You know, they tell you to stand six feet from people. In Alaska, you can come here and have a fantastic vacation and not be six miles from anyone.”
There are about 60 glaciers within a 50-mile radius of the airport, and this most magnificent wilderness of the United States is covered with mighty national parks and reserves. There is tourism, there is fishing, there is white water rafting and others; it is perfect for adventurous adventures.
The airport is preparing to return the passenger service by upgrading its cleaning program to Covid-19 combat-ready standards, using all hospital-grade disinfectants.
In the terminal, they have added UV UV remediation lights to the escalator railings. Szczesniak says, “As the railing travels through the machine, it will be blown up with UV light to kill any germs, viruses or bacteria that happen to them.”
$ 97 billion in losses
During our video call between London and Anchorage, there were 90 planes on the plane heading from the UK capital to Alaska Airport, according to real-time flight tracking site Flightradar24.
“There are currently more planes in the sky to and from Anchorage than there are for both JFK and LaGuardia,” said Szczesniak.
The busiest airport in the world, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, saw 110.5 million passengers in 2019. But in the first quarter of 2020, Atlanta Airport registered 20.7 million passengers, which is more than 18% compared to the same period last year.
The aviation industry is facing $ 97 billion in revenue cuts in 2020, and recovery is likely to be a slow and painful process.
The Anchorage team is proud of its efforts to facilitate the transportation of medical supplies during this time of global need – but hopes that their time as random record holders will be graciously short.
CNN’s Marnie Hunter contributed to this report