Polar Air considers expanding in Anchorage

Posted: Sunday, November 19, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- After keeping a relatively low profile since it was founded seven years ago, Polar Air Cargo is expanding its freighter fleet with new 747-400s. And the Long Beach, Calif., carrier could decide within six months whether to add a pilot hub in Anchorage.

Ian Jackson, Polar's vice president of terminal services, said the carrier is redefining itself, from investing hundreds of millions of dollars in new jets to trying to improve communications with employees.

The lofty goal: To be the industry's most efficient, on-time cargo carrier.

New jets and a work force driven by performance-based bonuses are a couple of the tools Jackson believes will help his company realize the dream.

''Polar is a company that is in the process of shifting to the way a company ought to be run,'' Jackson said Friday.

Meeting with some of the carrier's 41 Anchorage workers, he outlined Polar's growth plans, which call for replacing many contracted ground services in Anchorage with company workers and equipment. Polar also is looking for a larger airport facility, perhaps at the new Alaska CargoPort, he said. The carrier's currently uses Delta's cargo building.

Polar lands about two dozen 747s per week in Anchorage at this time of year, making it one of the smaller of the 25 international cargo carriers operating at the airport. However, it has a global presence, linking the Americas, Asia, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Founded in 1993, Polar got its start several years before the Asia economic flu hit. The downturn, which led to a slump in cargo flights for many carriers that use Anchorage as a pit stop between Asia and the Lower 48, had some analysts wondering whether Polar would survive.

About two years ago, GE Capital Aviation Services increased its stake in Polar and today is the majority owner. That has led to a makeover in the upper management and a long-term strategy of expanding Polar's freighter fleet with the latest in long-range aircraft, said Kristine Leathers, director of communications.

In the past six months, Polar has hired a new chief marketing officer, government affairs director, vice president of operations and a communications director. It is also searching for a new chief executive.

As for its freighter fleet, Polar has added five Boeing 747-400s, two of which began operating this week. Jackson said the company has an option for up to five more 747-400s.

''It is extremely reliable, takes only two people to fly and is more fuel efficient than the (747-200),'' he said of the new jets.

The 747-400 will eliminate some international flights that stop in Anchorage because the plane can fly farther and carry more cargo than other 747-series aircraft.

For instance, Polar plans to fly the 747-400 directly between Chicago and Tokyo and scrap a fueling stop in Anchorage.

''That's the only route I could see where the 400 would overfly Anchorage,'' Jackson said.

Polar will make up for its reduced Anchorage flights, in part, with routes between South America and Asia that will stop in Anchorage, he said.

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