To many people, Alaska is the final frontier, a winter wonderland full of exotic fauna and flora, as well as perpetually snow-capped peaks. Its location, nestled in the far northwest of the continental United States, separated from Washington State by Canada, is what makes it seem remote, and, in certain places, seemingly inhospitable. Yet it is this remoteness that makes the state thrive, especially as a stopping off point for aircraft transiting from the North America to Asia.
As a freight hub in the 1980s and early 1990s, the state capital Anchorage had one of the most exotic airports in the world. On the main freight ramp silver Flying Tigers Douglas DC-8s rubbed shoulders with Federal Express Boeing 727s, as pre-400 series Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and Korean Air 747s taxied past whilst making fuel stops. Just across the road, the Lake HoodmSeaplane base was bustling with many locally built early De Havilland Canada seaplanes, whilst a growing number of private individuals were snapping up old DHC-2 Beavers to fly themselves.
Although the advent of the -400 model 747s and later aircraft diminished the need for a fuel stop between North America and Asia, the airport still thrives. FedEx has a major base at the airport, and many other cargo airlines still stop in to refuel or change crews. The Flying Tigers DC-8s might have gone, but the airport is becoming an increasingly important stopping off point for business jets delivering, or transiting from the US to Asia, and vice versa.
To capitalize on Anchorage’s growing importance, Signature Aviation, the airport’s main FBO, recently completed work remodeling its main facility at the airport. Internally known as Signature East, the remodeled FBO lounge has been designed to replicate as many of Alaska’s characteristics as possible, with the ultimate aim of making passengers feel like they are at home. The centerpiece is a wood burning fireplace, which makes the lounge feel cozy, even though it is bigger than most. The lounge also includes a full-service executive conference room and pilot’s lounge, located just down the hallway from the passenger lounge, which includes two sleeping rooms so that transiting crews can rest without being disturbed.
One of the main aims when remodeling the facility was to bring the customs services under the same building as the FBO.
Before the new facility opened, aircraft would need to clear customs and immigration at a different part of the airport before coming across to the FBO.”
“We saw a spike in the number of transpacific general aviation and executive jet travel, and that with that, because of the way that Signature West is laid out here, it would take us a good 30 – 45 minutes to get our equipment across to US Customs, which is in the north terminal of the airport,” says Marty Bettis, General Manager, Signature Flight Support, Anchorage. “And then, the passengers have to get off the aircraft, clear customs, and then if they want to park at Signature, they will have to cross two active runways to get to us.”
That problem has now been solved, with the remodeled facility having customs facilities on site. This brings an added advantage for passengers passing through the facility, as once they have cleared customs, they are free to travel anywhere in the US without having to clear customs again. This means that passengers from Asia that are travelling to smaller cities or airports in the US, can make their fuel stop in Anchorage, clear customs and then fly directly to their final destination. This is especially useful for aircraft flying onwards to locations with Signature facilities, as it speeds up arrival at the final destination even quicker, as the passengers will already be within the Signature network by the time they arrive at their final destination.
“It’s a great location to clear customs. Aircraft are able to land, clear customs and immigration, and then be able to go to any other location in the US without any issues,” says Marty.
Signature West, on the opposite side of the airport is where the company parks larger corporate aircraft as it has around 93,000sq ft of parking space, as well as hangarage that can accommodate aircraft right up to the Boeing 767, including the Airbus ACJ and Boeing Business Jet aircraft.
You might be forgiven for thinking that hangar space at the airport would be necessary because of the environment. But despite most people’s impression of Anchorage being a winter wonderland, Marty says that the weather at the airport is temperate and isn’t prone to ground fog or frost.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t snow, but the airport has one of the best snow removal teams in the business, which according to Marty has won national snow removal competitions on several occasions. “The airport operates 24 hours a day, and has never closed,” says Marty.
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