(CNN) – The Anchorage International Airport in Alaska does not have the Singapore Changi waterfalls and razzmatazz or the eight runways of Chicago O’Hare.

But this unpretentious little airport – equidistant between New York and Tokyo – has recently experienced an unexpected ramp-up.

It is now the busiest airport in the world … at least some Saturdays.

“Saturday is a busy day for freight operations, which is our bread and butter, but it is also the slowest day for passenger service,” said airport manager Jim Szczesniak on a call. video.

“So, for example, on Saturday May 2, in Anchorage, we had 744 flights, while Chicago only had 579 and Atlanta only had 529.”

Anchorage also briefly won the busiest title in the world on Saturday April 25.

The roof of the world

The Airports Council International’s annual report on the world’s busiest airports, released earlier this week, is sobering.

The coronavirus pandemic means that passenger traffic is currently down more than 90%, according to Angela Gittens, CEO of ACI World. “The demand has almost disappeared.”

However, freight traffic is increasing, which is why Anchorage Airport – the fifth busiest cargo airport in the world – is booming.

“We are seeing an increase in demand for freight capacity,” says Szczesniak. “And that’s mainly because a lot of supplies for the fight against Covid in North America are produced in Asia.”

Anchorage is positioned for a perfect geographical advantage, according to what the airport estimates at 9.5 hours flight in 90% of the industrialized world.

Its location, literally at the top of the world, means that planes “fly from top to top [of the globe] to shorten the distance, “says Szczesniak.

“The advantage of Anchorage is that planes can fly full of cargo, but only half full of fuel. They fly to Anchorage and then refuel and then on their way.”

The small airport that could

This is reminiscent of the history of Gander Airport in Newfoundland, which welcomed 7,000 displaced air passengers on September 11, inspiring the Broadway musical “Come From Away”.

“We use different areas of the airport to accommodate parking lots that we would not normally do,” says Szczesniak.

The airport recently welcomed the heaviest helicopter ever built, the Antonov An-225 Mriya cargo plane, as well as a few sport titans – the New England Patriots plane stopped here because it was carrying out supplies between Boston and Asia.

In order to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the crew of the plane passing through Anchorage “minimizes their ability to interact with the Alaskans,” said Szczesniak. They use private transportation to and from hotels and avoid mixing with the ground crew.

Vacation destination

“After the coronavirus, we think Alaska will become a very popular tourist destination,” says Szczesniak. “You know, they tell you to stay six feet from people. In Alaska, you can come here and have a great vacation and not be less than six miles from someone.”

There are approximately 60 glaciers within 50 miles of the airport, and this most beautifully wild state of the United States is covered with national parks and mighty reserves. There is hiking, fishing, rafting and more; it is ideal for backwood adventurers.

The airport is preparing for the return of passenger service by improving its combat-ready cleaning program to Covid-19 standards, using all hospital-grade disinfectants.

In the terminal, they added sanitizing UV LED lamps to the escalator handrails. Said Szczesniak, “As the handrail travels through the machine, it will be blasted with UV light to kill any microbes, viruses or bacteria that arrive to them.”

$ 97 billion in losses

At the time of our video call between London and Anchorage, 90 aircraft in flight were heading from the British capital to Alaska airport, according to the real-time flight tracking site Flightradar24.

“There are currently more planes in the sky to and from Anchorage than for JFK and LaGuardia,” says Szczesniak.

The busiest international airport in the world, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, handled 110.5 million passengers in 2019. But in the first quarter of 2020, Atlanta Airport handled 20.7 million passengers, down more than 18% from the same period last year.

The aviation industry faces a $ 97 billion reduction in revenues in 2020 and the recovery should be a slow and painful process.

The Anchorage team is proud of their efforts to facilitate the transportation of medical supplies in this time of global need – but they hope their time as occasional record holders will happily be short.

CNN’s Marnie Hunter contributed to this report

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