Knowles seeks international transit rights through Anchorage airport

Posted: Monday, April 23, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles wants the federal Immigration and Naturalization Office to reverse a policy denying visa-free transit rights for international passengers moving through Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

In letters to Secretary of State Colin Powell and INS Commissioner Kevin Rooney, the governor asked for an exemption to the recent order that bars the visa-free transit through Anchorage.

''The economic effect on my state will be nothing less than disastrous, moving not just Peoples Republic of China and Russian passenger transits, but entire air passenger service operations and quite probably air cargo operations from American soil to foreign soil,'' Knowles wrote.

The INS and Department of State announced changes recently severely restricting a program allowing international passengers to stop at many U.S. airports while en route to a final foreign destination without requiring a visa.

The problem is particularly acute at Miami, where the INS had more than 1,100 foreign nationals refuse to re-board transit flights in the past year.

Only two passengers in the past 10 years have refused to re-board a flight while transiting through Anchorage, INS records indicate.

Two carriers using Ted Stevens Airport -- Cathay Pacific and Korean Air -- cater largely to Russians, Indians, and Chinese.

The policy as it applies to Anchorage won't advance any of the agency's goals, Knowles said.

''It will, however, burden Alaska by killing landing fees, fuel flowage fees and duty-free sales of not only the PRC (Chinese) nationals, but also the Canadians, Koreans, Japanese and Americans on flights that stand to be diverted from Anchorage.''

According to an analysis by the University of Alaska's Institute for Social and Economic Research, Korean Air and Cathay Pacific generate $5.2 million in direct revenue each year to the Anchorage airport.

If they were forced to avoid Anchorage because of the rule, then it could cost the city 1,000 jobs and 12 percent of the airport's annual budget.

Both airlines have said implementation of the new rule would force them to move their transit operations to foreign soil, probably Vancouver, British Columbia.

The international terminal at the Anchorage airport is a restricted, secure facility that greatly reduces the likelihood a passenger without a visa would try to enter the U.S. and not depart for the foreign destination, Knowles said.

Such a facility is ideal for successful, low-risk, implementation of the visa-free transit program without posing a burden on INS personnel.

''We fully understand that you must deal firmly to protect the important foreign policy and national security interests of the United States,'' Knowles said.

''We trust, however, that you are able to see that it is unnecessary to visit unintended extreme economic hardship on the people of Alaska in the course of protecting those interests.

''The new rules may be well warranted as applied to other U.S. transit points, but an exception is urgently needed reinstating the successful rules, or their equivalent, for Alaska.''

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