How to Ship in Alaska 

Tags: Supply Chain Management

The "last frontier" can be a daunting place for shippers moving freight unless they select the right airfreight forwarders to work with. Alaska is twice the size of Texas and has 640 square miles of land for every mile of paved road.

When waterborne transport isn't an option, freight moving in and out of Alaska goes by air. Shippers work closely with forwarders and carriers to book capacity and ensure seamless hand-offs between modes. Given the variety of cargoes that need to fly—ranging from time-sensitive medical supplies and over-dimensional oil field equipment to perishable seafood—companies need to identify specific shipment needs and align them with asset and service requirements.

Shippers selecting carriers in Alaska need to assess several criteria:

Experience. Because so many variables complicate transport in Alaska—notably weather and geography—a partner's track record in the market is critical. Planning for supply chain exceptions is standard operating protocol, and airfreight intermediaries possessing years of experience and industry connections with marine lines, trucking companies, and loyal customers can make shipping to and from Alaska much easier.

Intermodal Connections. Most freight in Alaska moves via intermodal, so any hiccup in transport can create domino-like delays throughout the entire shipment cycle. Tracking product across modes and communicating status to shippers and consignees is important. Transportation flexibility is a necessary luxury, but shippers rely on forwarders to determine what freight should move where and how, assessing cost and service variables that may dictate one mode over another.

Timing. Alaska's size, lack of road infrastructure, and extreme seasons place a premium on timing. Service frequencies change during the year and by mode, so shippers count on their airfreight partners to coordinate transportation moves accordingly. Different shipment types require diligent attention to scheduling. Fresh-caught salmon bound for restaurants in Seattle and just-in-time oil field equipment deliveries to the North Slope have unique transportation requirements. Forwarders can help match modes to expedite one shipment or slow another so that it arrives when it's supposed to. Missing transportation windows—too late or too early—can be costly oversights.

Specialized Handling. Given the sometimes sensitive and unwieldy nature of cargo flying within Alaska, it is vital that forwarders and carriers have the right cool chain and bulk freight capabilities in terms of training, handling, and equipment. They also need the right facilities in place to store, stage, and inspect freight as it moves through the supply chain.

Flying Fish

Alaska's commercial fishing industry presents a snapshot of the different challenges shippers, airfreight forwarders, and carriers encounter moving product in and out of the state.

  • Geoduck clams, which are harvested in Southeast Alaska, are considered a delicacy in Japan, Korea, and especially China. After the clams are harvested, they are transported to Anchorage for air transshipment to China—live. Making sure global shipments arrive on time and intact at appropriate jump-off points between modes is critical to preserving the chain of custody for perishable cargo moving long distances.
  • Commercial fishing boats have to pull their quota within tight time constraints, so whenever there is a need for a replacement engine or service part, forwarders and carriers have to make the right decisions fast. It may be an expedited, mission-critical delivery to the dock in the middle of the season or just-in-time replenishment for a spare part. Certain locations such as Dutch Harbor, a key fishing port in the Aleutian Islands, may only be served by one or two carriers with limited schedules or capacity. Forwarders need to understand regional service requirements and transportation frequencies when they coordinate pickups and book space.