Prime Air and ABX parked at cargo

Chicago Rockford Airport (RFD) has set its sights on the express and ecommerce market, having seen volumes rise 44% in the past year.

Flight movements have risen 150% since UPS expanded its operations at RFD, and ABX, Atlas Air and ATI – all part-owned by Amazon – began 767F operations at the airport.

UPS has increased to 13 flights a week since July and the airport expects some 60 daily flights during the pre-holiday peak.

RFD now hopes to further capitalise on express and parcel movements, and is in talks with Chinese express companies that have the potential of moving into cross-border ecommerce markets.

“We are working with a number of Chinese companies with the idea of direct-to-consumer shipments,” said Ken Ryan, cargo director.

The airport is in the process of doubling the size of the ramp, which will be completed this month, with further expansion providing capacity for another three 747-8Fs scheduled for the spring.

“All the growth has been in ecommerce, and we are looking to become specialists in it. We want to create a specific Customs point for it,” said Mr Ryan. “The ecommerce market is going crazy, and we’d like to be part of it.”

The airport aims to form a Customs group specific to small shipments.

“They are a low priority for Customs at Chicago O’ Hare, and it can take weeks to get freight out. We want to start test runs for Customs for ecommerce business,” explained Mr Ryan. “Yes, we are trying to poach traffic from O’ Hare.

“One of our advantages is that we are very fast and efficient, in part because we have less cargo. We are also able to make decisions, and act, very quickly, which ecommerce companies like. That has given us an advantage over other airports in winning new business.”



He also cited easy road access from the airport to “all points of the compass”, with no traffic congestion in the area.

RFD managed to build offices for one customer in just one month, he added. It is also significantly cheaper than O Hare, with landing fees three to four times lower than its larger rival.

The airport last year also welcomed maintenance provider AAR, which has added to traffic, and helped establish a school for mechanics. But Mr Ryan has his eye on the ecommerce prize.

“Ecommerce is so significant now. Retailers are going down the tubes because of etail. We believe there will be very strong growth and we expect to see a substantial increase in the next year. And if the barriers to international ecommerce come down, there is no end in sight.”

Ken Ryan

Airport businesses are currently recruiting more than 2,000 people to handle small packages, he said.

“The best workers are middle-aged women,” added Mr Ryan. “They are bright, they like the hours, can handle the small packages and are very reliable.”

“Workers are being offered good bonuses to ensure they work over the peak season.”

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