Constructed in 1951 as Anchorage International Airport, it was renamed by the Alaska Legislature to honor former long-standing U.S. Senator Ted Stevens. It is Alaska Airlines' second-largest hub, after Seattle. It is also a major cargo hub and, as of 2010, ranks as the fifth busiest airport in the world by cargo traffic, after Hong Kong, Memphis, Shanghai, and Seoul. Most major U.S. passenger carriers serve ANC, with the majority of passenger flight operations by Alaska Airlines to and from Seattle (an average of 20 flights per day) and Fairbanks (an average of 13 flights per day).
Anchorage was a common stopover for passengers flying to East Asia from the 1960s to the 1980s because Chinese and Soviet airspace were off-limits and because the first generation of jets and widebody airliners did not have the range to fly nonstop across the Pacific Ocean. Some passenger aircraft still stop at Anchorage on flights between Asia and the eastern United States. On September 1, 1983, one of these flights, Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was shot down by a Soviet pilot who had mistaken it for a spy plane, after unintentionally violating Soviet airspace. Cargo carriers, which benefit from short route segments, continue to use Anchorage frequently.
Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport's passenger traffic has hovered around the five million mark for the last 10 years, apart from in 2002 when the airport suffered a 13% drop in traffic. Fairbanks and Juneau are the next busiest airports though neither managed more than half a million passengers last year. Anchorage traffic peaks in June, July and August when passenger numbers are twice as high as between October and April.
FedEx Express and UPS Airlines operate major hubs at Anchorage International for cargo heading to and from the Far East. NWA Cargo used to operate a major hub at the airport until December 28, 2009 when it closed all operations for Northwest Cargo at all airports. FedEx Express is the airport's largest cargo facility and can handle as many as 13,400 packages per hour, employing more than 1,200 people and providing a full customs clearance system. United Parcel Service's hub handles about 5,000 parcels per hour. Both companies forecast a large growth in traffic over the next several years as trade with China and other Far East countries increases and plan to expand their Anchorage facilities comparatively. The United States Postal Service also operates a large sectional center facility (SCF) for the 995xx ZIP codes. It processes mail and parcels headed to and from all Alaska cities.
Anchorage is also envisioned as a future connecting point for air traffic to the Russian Far East. During the summer season 2008, there was one weekly flight to Russia by Vladivostok Air. Also, there are plans to add flights to Sakhalin in the near future to meet the demands of U.S. oil companies. Many of Alaska's North Slope workers live either in Anchorage or elsewhere in the Lower 48 states and fly through the airport to their jobs in Prudhoe Bay.
The eastern end of the airport's southernmost runway connects to
Kulis Air National Guard Base, which is actually located on land leased by the airport.