Monday, June 6, 2011

Things are getting fishy on jetBlue flights from Anchorage

Up to 8,000 pounds of salmon, halibut and other perishables have joined passengers on JetBlue Airways' new daily flights from Anchorage(ANC/PANC), Alaska, to Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB).

But travelers concerned about touching down reeking of fish need not worry; seafood and other cargo are making the 2,300-mile trek stashed far below passenger decks in crates of ice, giant coolers and pallets.

The new freight service represents a partnership between JetBlue, Lynden International, Northern Air Cargo and Alaskan businesses looking to ship their wares to the Lower 48.

The JetBlue service, which began in late May and is scheduled to continue through at least Sept. 5, is helping alleviate a drop in flights from Anchorage in recent years, a decline blamed largely on the stumbling economy.

The first three flights carried several thousand pounds of Copper River Salmon and Alaskan Halibut - two of the globe's most highly prized seafoods.

And those figures are expected to climb in coming weeks as the peak catching season approaches.

"As the fishing season gets into full swing, we expect those volumes to increase substantially," said Carl Shipsky, JetBlue's manager of system cargo sales. "We're looking forward to serving our (Anchorage) customers and becoming an increasingly significant part of the supply chain to the fishing industry in Alaska."

Indeed, the potential market is huge

Americans consumed about 300,000 metric tons of salmon in 2010, though much of it came from so-called salmon farms, or artificially produced lakes.
The Alaskan Copper River variety is a highly prized catch, and with North Atlantic halibut supplies depleting rapidly, the North Pacific variety is in greater demand than ever.

Ron Beach, a logistics manager with a seafood shipment company called Movers, told the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce that existing carriers had reduced flights, making the JetBlue connection all the more important.

Shipping frozen fish by ocean carrier from Alaska can take more than a week, and those varieties tend to sell for markedly less on the wholesale market.

JetBlue said it plans to ship up to 3.6 metric tons of seafood and other commercial cargo per southbound flight, though the number may vary depending on several factors.

"The (3.6 limit) are our per-flight goal numbers, but it depends heavily on our passenger and baggage load numbers, and on weather," said Mateo Lleras, a JetBlue spokesman.

Northbound flights are also expected to carry commercial cargo, but not anywhere near the volumes of goods headed south.

"The northbound lanes aren't utilized as heavily as the southbound lanes," Lleras said.

He said cargo in both directions is largely open to any business - large or small.

"We're open to accepting any type of cargo as long as it's not labeled as a hazardous material, dangerous good or (certain) personal effects," Lleras said. "But JetBlue transports any type of cargo for many different customers" unless prohibited by law.

The Alaska-Long Beach shipments represent JetBlue's growing interest in freight movement across the country. The airline has expanded to 33 the number of cities it offers cargo deliveries, while passenger routes are available to 65 cities.

The airline's fleet of Airbus A320 jets have up to 1,320-square-feet of cargo space for luggage and additional goods, less than the competitor Boeing 747, but enough to carry 2.5 tons to 3 tons per trip, said Edward McDonald, cargo system manager for JetBlue.

But pilots and air-traffic personnel ultimately call the shots on what does or doesn't get loaded.

"The available capacity is based on passenger and baggage load numbers, but also factors like weather," Lleras said.

Authorities hope the commercial cargo aspect to the new Long Beach-Anchorage route encourages JetBlue to expand their service beyond Sept. 5.

The Alaskan Chamber of Commerce notes thousands of Alaskans travel to Southern California during the long winter months for vacations and business purposes.

(Kristopher Hanson - Long Beach Press Telegram) 

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