DOT awards Chicago Rockford $9m for cargo infrastructure expansion

Yesterday, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) announced the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s intent to award Chicago Rockford International Airport (RFD) $9 million in grants. The grants will support RFD’s expansion of its cargo operations and aims to become a Midwest regional cargo hub. 

The $9 million will be used to fund the airport’s construction of its apron project, as part of the airport’s “Phase 3” in its overall plans for development. In Phase 3, the airport plans to expand cargo ramp, located in the airport’s north western area adjacent to the UPS ramp and main runwayfrom 50 acres to 65 acres. As designed, the ramp will host ten 747-8Fs or 14 767-300Fs, depending on the ultimate amount of federal funding the airport receives for the project. 

With construction of the ramp valued at $38 million, RFD is pursuing a total grant amount of $35 million from the federal government for build out of Phase 3. Construction time of the ramp will depend on the ultimate amount of funding RFD receives. If it does not reach its funding goals, the airport will need to phase development of the ramp expansion to two to four parking positions at a time.  

RFD hopes to receive more funding over the coming months, as the DOT announces results in future rounds for its additional supplemental funding. DOT will announce all awards for this funding by 2020. The airport expects results for the next few rounds will be announced in late summer and early fall. 

Following the announcement of grant awardees, RFD told Cargo Airport News that the airport will determine the final design of the ramp this fall and winter and will likely begin construction in spring of 2020 with a target opening date around Thanksgiving 2020. 

The money awarded to RFD is part of the DOT and FAA’s larger plans to award nearly $800 million in infrastructure grants to airports across the U.S 

The news bolsters RFD’s efforts to grow its operations in the aims of becoming a regional hub for cargo. RFD is already an emerging hub for e-commerce. ABX Air, Air Transport International (ATI) and Atlas Air currently carry e-commerce cargo through Rockford for online retail giant Amazon. ATI and ABX Air’s parent company, Air Transport Services Group (ATSG), currently leases a 72,000-square-foot cargo terminal from the airport for warehousing and freight forwarding. In December, Amazon announced its plans to increase its capacity at the airport with a 120,000 square-foot addition, to be completed in mid-2019. At the time, RFD said it also expected carriers operating for Amazon to increase their flight frequencies out of the airport.  

Beyond development at RFD, Amazon is growing its operations at other airports in the region and broke ground on its new hub at CVG yesterday. The potential impact to the e-tailer giant’s operations at RFD is not yet clear, though the move overall will strengthen Amazon’s air network. 

RFD, however, also hosts operations from cargo carriers Kalitta Air, Nippon Cargo Airlines, Southern Air, Volga-Dnepr Airlines, Cargolux, National Air Cargo and UPS. UPS operates its second-largest airfreight hub in North America at the airport. 

Besides RFD, cargo moving into and out of Chicago and its larger region is serviced by Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Chicago Midway (MDW) and Gary/Chicago (GYY). Late last monththough, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly of Illinois championed the construction of a long-discussed third Chicago airport, South Suburban Airport (SSA), in a letter to Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker. Local critics remain unconvinced that a new greenfield airport is viable or necessary given investment in modernizing and increasing capacity at the city’s existing ORD and MDW, as well as RFD.