Chicago aviation officials say O’Hare International Airport’s cargo operations grew 34 percent year-to-year through November 2010, rebounding sharply from three year decline.
During the same period, cargo operations at Chicago Rockford International Airport fell 21.1 percent, declining for the third straight year.
Note: Data for each year is through November
The reason? International cargo was strong and domestic shipping wasn’t, says Bob O’Brien, executive director of the Rockford airport.
“That reflects the international component of their operations,” O’Brien said of O’Hare’s cargo increase. “We’re not diversified yet on the international side. RFD’s operation here is virtually 100 percent domestic.”
O’Brien says the airport is likely to have its first international cargo tenant by spring, but until then its cargo numbers are tied to UPS, which has a package sorting hub at the airport that employs about 1,500 people.
When UPS ships less, RFD’s cargo figures fall.
The recession knocked daily air express shipments fell from nearly 2.5 million packages to 2.1 million, said UPS spokeswoman Christine Hand.
“However, Rockford remains an important part of the UPS regional hub network, and we are cautiously optimistic about economic recovery, as evidenced by the 7.5 percent increase we just experienced over our busy holiday shipping period,” Hand said in an e-mail. “We remain hopeful that shipping levels will continue to return, and that numbers will begin growing in Rockford.”
Since 2007, cargo shipments through the airport are down 59 percent, from 664,841 tons to 394,279 tons, according to records from the airport.
Boeing Co.’s World Cargo Outlook 2010-11 said international cargo shipments began rising last November and for the first eight months of 2010 grew 24 percent, Boeing said. Over the next 20 years,
Boeing sees 5.9 percent annual growth.
That’s why RFD is courting international freight haulers such as Atlas Air and Southern Airlines, both Chinese freight carriers that now use O’Hare.
Both companies used Rockford last year to to offload cargo. The airport used the events to compile data to back up claims that landing in Rockford and trucking goods to Chicago cost less and was quicker than landing in O’Hare.
The airport hopes to attract international cargo shippers to Tandem Development’s $6 million, 72,000-square-foot spec building. Tandem is envisioned by the airport as the first of several buildings in a 380,000-square-foot international cargo campus.
But first, it needs tenants, something O’Brien is convinced will happen this spring.
“International cargo will begin and continue flying into and and out of Rockford, and that will lead to a more diversified cargo operation,” he said.