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Living the dream

North American operators are ramping up capacity but also, as Ian Putzger finds, smaller airports are landing more international freighters, as the traditional gateways are facing constraints

The Big Apple is gearing up for growth. Last November the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, landlord of New York’s airports, signed an agreement with cargo property developer Aeroterm to build a new cargo terminal. The deal calls for the demolition of two outdated warehouses at JFK airport, which will be replaced by a modern facility with 346,000ft2 of cargo space. The building will be occupied by multinational handling firm Worldwide Flight Services.

The port authority is spending $62 million on work to rehabilitate and realign two taxiways to give large freighters access to the site.

A year ago, a $65 million animal facility with 178,000 ft2 of warehouse space opened its doors at JFK, reflecting a growing focus on facilities catering to special types of cargo like live animals, pharmaceuticals and perishables. New cooler facilities have come on stream at major gateways like Miami and Dallas/Fort Worth during the past two years. Investment in general cargo facilities, on the other hand, nearly collapsed in the economic downturn. This lack of development is now exacerbating a need for cargo capacity at North American airports that the surge in demand over the past year has produced. Air Canada Cargo is finalising plans for an overhaul of its Toronto hub, and it is set to move into a new facility in Chicago in May.

“We are investing heavily in physical facilities and people,” says Tim Strauss, Vice President of Cargo.

In Toronto, the airline recently leased a 60,000ft2 building and moved its postal traffic and trucking activities there, creating breathing space for other cargo at the main hub facility. “We’re leasing this building for five years. Then we’ll have the hub finished,” says Strauss.

United Airlines split its mail and freight activities at its San Francisco gateway and separated import and export at Newark airport. Infrastructure has lagged behind the growth in volume, notes Jan Krems, President of Cargo.

Rapid growth, plus limited slot availability at major gateways, has prompted some all-cargo operators to turn to second-tier airports. This brought international widebody freighters to the likes of Pittsburgh and Lambert St. Louis, and boosted such activities at Rickenbacker, the all-cargo airport of Columbus, OH.

In October, Etihad launched weekly B777-200F flights linking Hanoi and Colombo respectively with Rickenbacker via its Abu Dhabi hub. This drove the airport’s international network to 15 scheduled weekly freighter flights operated by four carriers, plus a steady flow of charters.

“I suspect we are going to see some other secondary gateways develop,” comments Bill Flynn, President and Chief Executive Officer of Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings.


Rickenbacker’s throughput was up 26% through November, largely driven by international traffic, which climbed 65%. “December was very strong”, says David Whitaker, Chief Commercial Officer of the Columbus Regional Airport Authority. “We had a great 2017, and we’re looking forward to a good 2018.”

The airport opened a 100,000ft2 cargo terminal last year, which can be expanded. For the foreseeable future Whitaker does not expect a need for further facility development.

His optimism for the year ahead is shared by Jason Berry, Managing Director of Alaska Air Cargo. Despite a reduction in main deck capacity, as its B737 combis exited service, preliminary numbers for 2017 suggest that the carrier had a record year. Berry expects growth to continue. “There are plenty of signs of health in the economy,” he says.

“Demand is strong, and it is across the board – capital goods, automotive, electronics...,” comments Shawn McWhorter, President for the Americas at Nippon Cargo Airlines. >>


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