Saturday, December 19, 2020

Chicago Rockford International Airport (KRFD) remains vital to region's economic health

By Mike Dunn

Mike Dunn is executive director of Chicago Rockford International Airport (KRFD).

There’s little doubt 2020 has been a year of challenges. But at the Chicago Rockford International Airport, it also has been a year of tremendous growth.

Operational diversity is at the core of our business plan, and that means we rely on both passenger and cargo service to weather economic fluctuations. This strategy paid off this year: While passenger travel was down in 2020, cargo freight saw another year of significant increases.

Heading into this year, RFD was already internationally recognized as one of the top 20 cargo airports in the country and one of the fastest-growing cargo airports in the world. We’ve always known that air cargo, both domestic and international, was going to be a real growth industry for the airport.   

2020 saw increased cargo loads at RFD, with no slowdown in sight.  It appears that for 2020, more than 1.9 billion pounds of cargo will land and be handled through RFD compared with the 1.6 billion pounds of landed weight in 2019.   

The airport’s goal going forward is to assure that RFD will continue be a go-to cargo airport for major companies. Recently, RFD secured a $16 million grant from the FAA AIP Supplemental Grant Appropriation and an additional $500,000 from the Illinois Department of Transportation for airport infrastructure improvements. We are using that money to upgrade a ramp (airplane parking) used primarily by UPS for cargo operations.

The airport also began work on a new, 90,000-square-foot International Cargo Facility, intended to house air cargo companies from around the world.

Make no mistake, business growth for RFD is good news for the Rockford region. Higher cargo volume means more jobs — a boon for our community during an otherwise tough economy. Our cargo partners have hired thousands of additional workers as they increase operations to meet  cargo demands.

RFD is now known among shipping companies throughout the world as a Midwest American hub, thanks to our ability to add flights and bring in larger aircraft. We handle up to 66 UPS flights every day and are Amazon’s third-busiest air hub. In October, RFD was named the USA Midwest hub for German shipping company SENATOR INTERNATIONAL. Additionally, SENATOR has contracted with locally based Emery Air, a premier aviation company, to oversee its cargo handling operations (loading and unloading of aircraft) on the ground.  

In addition to the growth in cargo activities, RFD has seen a steady return to normal on the passenger side since the beginning of the pandemic. In October, RFD was down year-to-date only 18% in enplanements year-over-year.  We expect to see travel to continue to return during the holidays with the airlines adopting a wide range of policies and procedures and utilizing state-of-the-art cleaning and disinfection products to ensure passengers can fly with confidence.

RFD is a major economic engine for the Rock River Valley, and Northern Illinois, creating skilled jobs in aviation, transportation, logistics and construction. Over the past year, RFD and our partners have created over 1,000 new jobs bringing the total jobs on the airport campus to over 8,000.

Many of those working on the RFD campus are the essential workers we have relied on throughout this year. These workers have sorted orders, loaded packages, built and rehabbed our runways, ramps and buildings, and kept planes in the air, all while working in PPE and with new distancing guidelines. Because of these workers, RFD was able to assist in keeping supply lines moving throughout the world.   

While 2020 has been a tough year for many, all of us affiliated with RFD are proud to contribute to our economic recovery throughout our community and the nation.

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