International passenger traffic continues to drop in Anchorage

Posted: Thursday, February 24, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- World travelers are increasingly bypassing the state's largest city.

The number of international passengers flying into Anchorage is a third of what it was in 1989 and the downward slide continued this month. Korean Air announced on Feb. 1 it was slashing its Anchorage flights from 16 to four a week.

Other airlines that have suspended service to Anchorage since 1991 include KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines System, Lufthansa German Airlines, Sabena World Airlines and Swissair.

In 1989, 1.6 million international passengers landed in Anchorage. By 1994, the number dropped to 340,000.

Last budget year, Anchorage drew about 542,000 international passengers, according to Lynn Klassert, general manager of the airport's Duty Free shop.

''If it keeps going the way it's going, it's quite possible that number could fall below 500,000,'' said Klassert.

Fewer travelers means lost revenue for the Duty Free shop, which turns part of what it earns over to the airport. In 1989, the shop collected about $100 million. Last year, it took in $9.9 million, Klassert said.

So what's going on?

It's a combination of factors, including the opening of Russian airspace, longer-range planes, the threat of Alaska volcanos, and the Asian economic flu.

After the Berlin Wall collapsed, the former Soviet Union opened its airspace to international flights, offering a shorter route between Europe and Asia. At the same time, more fuel-efficient planes were developed that allow nonstop flights between cities such as New York and Seoul. Anchorage, a refueling stop, was no longer needed by many planes.

In 1989 and 1992, fiery eruptions by Mounts Redoubt and Spurr helped discourage some foreign airlines from taking the risk of flying through ash-strewn airspace. More recently, turmoil in Asian and Russian economies have put a crimp in foreign travel.

In KAL's case, the Korean carrier decided to shrink its Anchorage stops because there were too few passengers. The move reduces travel time between the East Coast and Seoul by two and a half hours, said KAL regional manager Yung-Keun Koo.

While foreign passenger flights are down, the amount of cargo traffic at the airport is increasing. In 1990, about 11,000 cargo flights landed in Anchorage. Last year, that figured had swelled to just under 21,000 landings, according to airport director Morton Plumb.

Because the cargo volume has almost doubled, the airport has been able to offset the loss of international passenger flights by collecting more landing fees from cargo planes.

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