New cargo project is latest proposal for booming Anchorage airport

A Singapore Airlines Cargo plan taxis for departure on Runway 32 at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on April 27, 2013. The airport ranked fifth in the world for the most air cargo to go through it in 2017. (Creative Commons photo by BriYYZ)

A firm led by the former top investment officer at the Alaska Permanent Fund is eyeing what could grow into a $500 million project to support the booming cargo shipping industry at Anchorage’s international airport.

The C Change Group is led by Russell Read, the Permanent Fund’s former chief investment officer.

It’s proposing to build more than a dozen new “hardstands” for big cargo jets at the south end of the airport. Those are spots where the planes can pump fuel and plug into electricity, said John Tichotsky, a former chief economist for the state of Alaska who’s now working for the investment firm.

The company could also end up building a hangar or cargo warehouse in a future construction phase, Tichotsky said.

The proposal is the latest in a flurry of the planned development at the Anchorage airport that, if it’s all built, would amount to more than $1 billion in investment, said Jim Szczesniak, the airport manager.

Beyond the C Change Group’s project, UPS and FedEx are both expanding their operations, plus two other companies are developing projects aimed at supporting the cargo industry — including a cold-storage building that could boost shipping of Alaska peonies and seafood.

The state has long promoted Anchorage’s airport as a strategic cargo hub, given its location between Asia and the Lower 48. More cargo flights take off from the airport each day for Hong Kong and Chicago than passenger flights headed for Seattle, Szczesniak said.

But Anchorage has seen a particular boom in cargo traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic — at one point becoming the world’s busiest airport, by some accounts.

The increased demand stems from general growth in e-commerce, plus the pandemic-driven decline in passenger flights, which also carried cargo that’s now being shipped by dedicated freighters, Szczesniak said.

“Although we go out and we tell everybody that we have this strategic location, this is really proof in the pudding that the global economy understands that Anchorage is key to how goods flow,” Szczesniak said in an interview Monday.

That boom has helped the C Change Group make its pitch to investors that cargo flights to Anchorage are likely to increase, said Tichotsky.

“We were like, ‘It’s really easy to watch these flights double under the right conditions.’ And everybody was like, ‘Oh, that’s very interesting,” Tichotsky said. “And then COVID-19 hit, and Anchorage became the busiest airport on the planet.”

Currently, the airport sometimes lacks enough hardstands for all the cargo jets flying through Anchorage, Szczesniak said. That means it sometimes has to dock them at passenger gates, which is less efficient and more expensive since the planes then need a tug to push them back out on the tarmac.

The new project, which the C Change Group is calling South Airport Park, would build hardstands for 14 more cargo jets. They’re designed so that the planes could pull in and out efficiently, without having to turn around, Szczesniak said.

If it’s built, the project will support 150 construction jobs and 220 long-term jobs, the C Change Group said in a presentation to airport officials.