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As commercial plane flights into Anchorage virtually stop, cargo planes keep coming

(KTUU)
Published: Apr. 20, 2020 at 6:15 PM AKDT
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Commercial flights have virtually stopped coming in and out of Anchorage during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cargo planes have kept coming in numbers largely unchanged from last year.

Jim Szczesniak, the manager of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, says on Sunday that the airport saw a total of just six commercial flights arrive from out of state: One from Delta Airlines, one from United Airlines and four from Alaska Airlines.

While commercial flights have dwindled to almost nothing, cargo planes have kept arriving.

Meadow Bailey, a spokesperson from the Alaska Department of Transportation, says earlier in the year, air cargo flights had dropped off from Asia due to coronavirus travel restrictions. As of April 7, around 50-90 cargo planes are landing in Anchorage each day, often carrying critical supplies.

The number of cargo flight arrivals in Anchorage represents a slight uptick from the number recorded this time last year.

The pilots arriving onboard those flights are not required to quarantine for two weeks instate like other arrivals in Alaska due to the need to make quick turnarounds. The governor exempted air cargo pilots from the 14-day restrictions when issuing a health mandate on

The first positive case of coronavirus was identified in a cargo pilot in early March.

United Parcel Service, better known as UPS, continues to fly in and out of Anchorage. Jim Mayer, the public relations manager for the airline, says UPS is playing a critical role “in keeping the economy moving in Alaska, the U.S. and the world during the coronavirus crisis.”

“Every time one of our aircraft takes off, we are helping to save lives and livelihoods,” Mayer wrote by email. “As more and more Americans stay home from work, shopping and other activities as a result of the coronavirus, it’s UPS that is delivering needed medicine and other necessities of life.”

When an air cargo pilot disembarks, Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) guidelines require them to travel with private transportation to a hotel and stay in their rooms.

The Lakefront Hotel, a short drive from the airport, is a popular spot to stopover for aircrews in Anchorage.

Greg Beltz, the general manager of the hotel, says there is enhanced cleaning at the hotel and employees are mandated to wear personal protective equipment (PPE).

Aircrews are an increasingly important part of the Lakefront Hotel’s business. With tourism all but eliminated, Beltz says 70% of the hotel’s employees have been temporarily laid off. “It’s something new to everybody, and we just want to do whatever we can to make sure we’re helping our aircrews and our oil and gas workers,” he said.

Air cargo pilots and crews who are Alaska residents are allowed to return home when they arrive. FAA guidelines require that they self-isolate before heading out on another trip.

Mayer writes that the expectation for UPS is that crews based out of Alaska “avoid going out in public and use social distancing.”

Szczesniak says crews from Alaska are practicing the same strict isolation standards when traveling in other parts of the world. And air cargo companies have a good reason to keep crews safe. “They’re the most precious resource the airlines have right now,” Szczesniak said.

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