Alaska’s principal gateway is celebrating its best year ever following publication of its 2018 figures, which showed record passenger numbers and major growth in its cargo business.

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport reported last week that more than 5.6 million passengers passed through its gates last year, which was a 3.1 percent increase on 2017.

What is suddenly making this remote hub more attractive?

Airport Manager Jim Szczesniak has attributed "the vast majority of this increase was driven by tourism and that translates into tens of millions of additional dollars being poured into Alaska’s economy."

It seems that the rise in the tourist demand towards Alaska, which is known as the Last Frontier, is behind the growth. Expansion by a number of airlines serving the airport has also been helping, with United Airlines’ nonstop link to Newark now served daily, and upcoming new routes to Bellingham and Las Vegas with Allegiant Air and Sun Country Airlines, respectively, this summer.

Much of the airport’s passenger business revolves around links to outlying communities across Alaska. Even Alaska Airlines, the biggest carrier here, has larger hubs in other states. However, with a number of seasonal routes and airlines already in place, the growth in demand for visiting Alaska is proving tempting to airlines in introducing new destinations.

Anchorage is not only celebrating success in passenger services in these latest statistics. Its cargo business, which accounts for much of the airport’s movements, has also seen important growth thanks to changes in the volume of goods that were shipped.

As a major point on the air freight routes linking Asia and North America, the airport is the fifth busiest cargo hub in the world. Its location is seen as strategic between the two continents, and a growth in perishables and e-commerce has fueled a 2.5 per cent rise in cargo volumes passing through.

Szczesniak commented: "Global growth and e-commerce in particular are the driving force behind our solid numbers. In 2018 the airport secured new air cargo airlines and that helps grow our cargo numbers. We are also seeing a lot of growth using Anchorage to connect Latin America and Asia. The perishables market between those two regions is really exploding and Anchorage is strategically located between those markets. Airlines can pair fresh Latin American fruit with some fresh, wild caught Alaskan salmon or king crab and send a balanced meal to Asia."

Anchorage is not yet of the same scale as other major hubs across the country, and it is unlikely to reach that level. But it is an important hub for the region and perfectly suited for the type of operations required. It is anticipated that air links with eastern Russia will commence in the future to support the oil industry.

The airport currently has a number of projects underway to improve its facilities. These include rehabilitating the northern runway 15/33 and its associated taxiways to bring it up to FAA standards. A new memorial to late Sen. Ted Stevens, who died in 2010, will also be dedicated inside Concourse C, along with upgraded seating areas.