ANCHORAGE (AP) -- United Parcel Service may expand its Anchorage operation after federal transportation officials awarded the Atlanta-based freight carrier six weekly flights to China. All will stop in Anchorage to refuel, swap cargo and change crews.
Northwest Airlines and FedEx, which already fly into China, each were awarded one additional weekly flight on Tuesday. United Airlines, the only other U.S. carrier already serving China, adds two weekly flights. Up to eight of the 10 new flights will touch down in Anchorage.
''This is a testament to our role in the global economy,'' said airport director Mort Plumb.
Air carriers had waited for months for the U.S. Transportation Department to decide who would get the China flights.
Until Tuesday's decision, only three U.S. air carriers -- Northwest, United and FedEx -- were allowed to fly to China. Last year, the United States and China negotiated a deal to add a fourth carrier and 10 weekly flights starting in April.
American, Delta, UPS and Polar Air Cargo applied for the fourth slot and competed against the current carriers for flights.
But UPS emerged the winner, joining FedEx as the only cargo-only carriers to directly serve China. Northwest flies a mix of cargo and passenger jets to China.
UPS, which employs about 380 people in Alaska, will hire more workers here to handle ground operations for the new flights. It is also looking at whether to expand its airport facility and establish a pilot hub in Anchorage, a move that could bring more high-paid pilots and their families to the state, said Carolyn Ottosen, UPS division manager for Alaska.
Having direct access to China is a boon for the carrier, she said. ''This is a tremendous opportunity because so many products comes out of China.''
Anchorage is an important stop for cargo jets flying goods over the Pacific. The planes can carry more freight by landing in Anchorage to refuel. Air carriers also use the city to swap and sort cargo, as well as change crews, which results in at least 150 hotel stays a night.
While American and Delta were unsuccessful in their bids for the fourth slot, the Transportation Department said talks are under way on whether those carriers can fly to China under lease to Chinese airlines.
Atlas Air, another big cargo carrier that uses Anchorage, is currently leasing planes and crews in a similar arrangement.
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