News from Patrick Flynn

Flights of fancy – updated

[update] I received a call from Jason Lamb at KTUU, who read the post below and was looking in to doing a story on the subject. I recommended he review articles in the Prince George Citizen, that community’s newspaper, about the project. It’s a big issue in northern British Columbia and there’s lots to learn. [/update]

As regular readers of this site know, I generally try to focus my posts on issues related to Anchorage generally and the Assembly district I represent specifically. This one will be something of an exception.

It has been said, including by myself, that Alaska is the world’s biggest small town. That’s another way of saying that we are all closely connected, and that the various aspects of our lives intersect frequently. I was reminded of this earlier in the week while on a business trip to Northern British Columbia which, as one might presume, was related to my day job.

British Columbia has some similarities with Alaska. Both “states” – BC is a province – have vast natural resources, coastal communities and unpredictable climates. My visit to BC stemmed from the Alaska Railroad‘s connection to the Canadian National Railway via the CN Aquatrain and my counterparts at CN consider Anchorage equivalent to Vancouver, Fairbanks equivalent to Prince George and Whittier equivalent to Prince Rupert. It’s not a perfect comparison (e.g. from my perspective Prince Rupert is more like Ketchikan than any other Alaska city) but not so far from the truth, which is why I’d like to talk a bit more about Prince George.

The PG airport is wrapping up a project extending their runway from 7,400 to 11,400 feet, with the aim of attracting trans-pacific cargo flights to make refueling stops between Asia and North America. According to my CN counterparts, PG airport officials claim that two trans-pacific air cargo companies have committed to use this new runway to shorten their flights, which would purportedly save $400,000 in fuel costs annually and avoid “congestion” at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. If you don’t think this is a big deal, you might be interested to learn about the importance of our airport to Anchorage’s economy. And it’s not the passenger traffic, though that’s what most Alaskans see, it’s the cargo. According to airport statistics, Anchorage ranks #1 nationally one in landed cargo volume, and #3 in the world. Fees generated from this traffic helps pay for many of the terminal improvements we enjoy, including the recent reconstruction of the C concourse and the on-going renovation of the B concourse. And there are quite a few air cargo-related jobs in Anchorage, from pilots domiciled here to trans-loaders to re-fuelers. In other words, should there be a significant diversion of cargo traffic from our airport the effects could be dramatic.

That said, I’m not shaking in my boots. Prince George has ground fog that sometimes prevents airplanes from landing, lacks the support infrastructure of Anchorage and others, like Fairbanks, have tried this before only to come up short. But it’s also a healthy reminder, one I’ve learned in my professional life, that your customers will seek a “work around” if you create too many obstacles, like high costs of doing business. As our community moves forward this is an important lesson about controlling costs while providing the services needed by our citizenry.

With that, if you have business or personal experiences that inform your thinking on Anchorage’s future I’d be interested in hearing them.



This contribution was made on Saturday, 04. October 2008 at 18:00 and was published under the category Transportation. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

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