Alaska enters new era of possibilities with direct flights to China
The stars are aligning for Alaska businesses with China.
Governor Bill Walker held a press conference on Wednesday with Alaska business leaders and legislators to share details about a recent trade mission to China.
"The trip was properly named ‘Opportunity Alaska,’" Governor Walker said. "The purpose of it was to expose Alaskan businesses the opportunity to experience what I have in China-- the thirst in China for doing deals Alaska."
One of the biggest deals to spring forward is the possibility of direct passenger flights from Anchorage to China. It's a plan the state of Alaska's been working on for some time, and just recently, China is getting on board.
"A major push that I have been pushing for is direct flights-- direct flights to and from Asia to Alaska," Gov. Walker said. "Seven-and-a-half-hours looks pretty darn good compared to in what we spend back and forth. We used to have direct flights years ago with Pan Am, they'd save a few seats from New York to Tokyo and stop in Anchorage to refuel and you could get on that way. We want those flights back."
Pan Am is no longer available and the flights became uneconomical.
"It's all about the mathematics and money," Anchorage Airport General Manager Jim Szczesnaik said. "It comes down to big planes versus little planes and the costs. It costs far too much to fly the big cargo planes and to use them for passengers. It's just not cost-effective."
The top five cargo airports in the world in order are Hong Kong; Memphis, Tennessee; Shanghai, China; Incheon, Korea; and Anchorage. Szczesnaik says the ability to use newly-purchased narrow-body aircraft such as the Boeing 737 Max and Airbus A321 will make the trans-Pacific trip more viable.
"It is a new era of possibilities for this airport," Szczesnaik said. "Just for the fact that it brings all these Asian destinations into play. Plus, all the destinations in the Lower 48 that we can't get to now. We can get to them in a 757, but again, it's mathematics."
The work now begins to find airlines who want to be a part of Alaska's vision and to coordinate routes with several U.S.- and China-based airlines.
"We've been pulling from this end," Gov. Walker said. "Now there is pushing from the other end, certainly in China, and a little discussion about what city it would come from, whether that is Beijing or Shanghai or somewhere else. We just want to see them coming direct and we will see a tremendous uptick in tourism."
Governor Walker believes the flights will impact the state in a positive way, much like the cruise ships benefit Alaska's coastal communities.
"We want to come here," Walker said. "They love Alaska and especially Alaska winters. China is a country low on resources; Alaska is full of resources."
Szczesiak and his team's plan is to make Alaska China's link to the rest of North America. Much the same Iceland does for Europe.
"Iceland Air is a connection point between North America and Europe," Szczesnaik said. "We want to be that same connection point between Asia and North America, where we can have Asian carriers fly into Anchorage, people can get off and explore Alaska, and then get back on the plane, and then go into the U.S. on a domestic carrier. We now are getting the narrow-bodied aircraft to make this a reality."
Current flights from Asia and China fly over Alaska to get to Seattle, Los Angeles or San Francisco. People then book another flight north if they want to see Alaska.
The new flights could be in operation starting in the summer of 2019.
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