More jobs and cash have landed at Chicago Rockford International Airport, where cargo volume is up nearly 40% for the first six months of the year compared with the first half of 2016.
The increase of 148.3 million pounds of landed cargo weight occurred after ABX Air started operations at the airport in September. In addition, UPS Inc. increased flights late last year and launched new daytime flights at the airport last week.
UPS ranks No. 1 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest U.S. and Canadian for-hire carriers.
ABX has contracted with Pinnacle Logistics to handle ground operations for the cargo it is ferrying for online retail giant Amazon. Pinnacle has hired roughly 125 workers to handle ground cargo operations at the Rockford airport. UPS has hired 250 to accommodate its roughly 20 additional flights a week.
Landing fees from the additional cargo flights will supply the airport with more than $800,000 a year. More cargo may be on its way.
“ABX is running two flights a day right now and we’re told to expect that to go to three flights a day come Aug. 1 and likely more beyond that,” said Airport Director Mike Dunn. “We don’t expect the UPS flights to grow further, but frankly, we are talking to another airline that we think is going to bring four to five 747s a week here for cargo.”
Rockford was the 31st-busiest cargo airport in the nation in terms of landed weight last year, according to the most recent figures from the Federal Aviation Administration, and it may not be long until RFD cracks the Top 25 or even Top 20, Dunn said.
“The board’s vision is to increase our cargo capacity as much as we can,” said Rockford attorney Paul Cicero, who chairs the airport board of commissioners. “We’ve been very successful in cracking through the ice and we think we’re going to have a real flood in the reasonably near-term future. In the next couple of years — we think it’s going to be a real economic success, even beyond what we’re seeing today.”
The airport is wrapping up a $20 million, 30,000-square-foot addition to its passenger terminal, which will provide more room for check-in and additional Transportation Safety Administration inspection lanes.
But to keep courting airfreight business, it’s more important for the airport to expand its cargo apron — the area where planes are parked while freight is loaded and unloaded. A $30 million cargo expansion would fill in the grassy expanse between the terminal and the cargo ramp to the west, where ABX Air operates.
Applying for and receiving a federal grant for that project would require the airport to come up with a 5% match — about $1.5 million. And there are parking lots and concrete maintenance throughout the airport campus that need attention. Meanwhile, the airport is still waiting on $15 million from the state of Illinois for the new maintenance, repair and overhaul facility where AAR Corp. services and repairs jets. Monthly interest payments have swelled to $80,000 for a bridge loan the airport obtained to finish construction, which wrapped up last year.
“The extra revenue from the cargo business we’re doing is great, but we’re still deferring a lot of capital improvements around the airport,” Dunn said. “We don’t want to paint a picture that we don’t need that state money because we do.”