NY NJ Cargo Trend

A midwestern airport that once handled 800 thousand tons of cargo a year only 10 years ago is now almost equal to the total cargo volumes of JFK Airport (1.28 m tons). That airport is Indianapolis Airport and it is investing hundreds of millions to improve both airside and cargo handling infrastructure. When you add the growth of Indianapolis to the similar strong growth of Akron-Canton and Cincinatti/Kentucky Airports, the picture gets even more worrisome. This is especially true when you look at how JFK Cargo figures have decreased in ten years. (1.6 m tons in 2007) down 320 hundred thousand tons.

Well known and prestigious NY fashion companies are moving to the Midwest to gain the benefits of reduced airside fees, quicker and more efficient transfer of cargo from aircraft to other shipping modes, and considerably lower tolls, taxes and airport fees. One of the creative steps the airports at these locations is doing is building specialized warehouses close to the tarmac that become storage and transit points for clothing and accessory manufacturers.

The decrease in JFK’s Cargo traffic over the past 25 years has been happening in little increments. At one time, JKF Airport handled more cargo than any other airport globally until 1990. A quarter of a century later, JFK’s ranking has fallen to 22nd globally, according to Air Cargo World’s, “Top 50 Cargo Airports” ranking.

Last month, New York City’s Committee on Economic Development held hearings to address that slow decline. The committee discussed ways to improve cargo operations and grow volumes across all of NYC’s regional airports, which have struggled to keep pace with global demand for air cargo over the last couple of decades.

NYC Council Member Dan Garodnick pointed the finger at underinvestment in the region’s airports saying that, “many of the cargo facilities at JFK airport are over 40 years old and in dire need of renovation and modernization.”

According to ACW’s Top 50 Airports listing, JFK’s volumes fell 0.6 percent in 2016. Over a longer timeline, JFK’s numbers look even worse. According to a report released in conjunction with the committee hearing, only two of the nation’s 15 largest airports experienced a decline in air cargo traffic from 2014 to 2016, one of which was JFK.

The report found that air cargo volumes are down 6.3 percent over the last five years at JFK, and 26 percent since 2004. “The total economic impact of JFK’s air cargo industry has fallen 31 percent since 2004,” the report found.

It helps that JFK seems to be catching the rising tide in 2017. According to The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, cargo volumes across all regional airports were up 7.4 percent, year-over-year, for the first three quarters of 2017. JFK certainly accounted for a good share of that growth.

And while government investment is a critical part of the airfreight equation, plenty of carriers are increasing special cargo capabilities at JFK on their own steam, to handle growing volumes of pharma and other high-value shipments between New York, the U.K. and the E.U.

The new dedicated Air Cargo facility being developed at JFK and due to be completed by 2019 may be a partial answer to the need for special cargo capabilities.

But perhaps the overall problem is not simply JFK’s and the other local airport’s infrastructure needs. Perhaps Garodnick and other NYC and the State of New York politicos need to look in the mirror at the hefty tax burden borne by NY businesses, cost of fuels, onerous regulations that make the Bible look like a back-pocket brochure, and the diminished capacity of our roads to handle truck traffic. And it is predominately trucks that carry the air cargo out of the airports to their commercial destinations.

In 1960, if you were driving on the Grand Central/Van Wyck Expressway from the Triboro Bridge to JFK, you would be on a 6-lane highway from Astoria all the way down to Jamaica. And today, if you are taking the same route, you are still primarily on a 6-lane highway with minimal improvement to handle traffic into the airport. There is an on-going fifteen-year project to do what to the Van Wyck and you wonder if the fifteen years of traffic jams is worth the so-called improvements.

When your commuting trip on the Van Wyck is at its’ most southerly point, instead of a large and open roadway with clear signage and distinct lane separation that indicates you are now entering JFK, most trucks and cars need to weave their way into the right lane to avoid missing the entry into JFK. I have seen this almost every time when I am commuting down the Van Wyck.

Has any other city in the United States frozen their road access from city center to the airports?

I believe we also have to take a fresh look at the air cargo business in and around our NY region airports, and seek ways to work with logistics firms and other cargo based businesses in the region to pool ideas, participate in joint development projects – such as the new cargo facility planned at JFK and convince politicians that New York business-people and consumers are not walking ATM’s.

Would it be too humbling to use the midwestern airports as a “best practices model” for cargo operations and study the possibility of incorporating some of their ideas?

Mr. Alba was previously Editor of the Airport Press for 12 years covering both local as well as global aviation news. Prior to this, Mr. Alba had Executive positions in Systems Engineering and Marketing with IBM World Trade, and had foreign assignments in the Far East and Latin America earning three Outstanding Achievement Awards. Mr. Alba also directed a new function dealing with Alternate Fuels for Public Service Electric & Gas company in New Jersey and founded a Natural Gas Vehicle Consortium consisting of car company executives and fleet owners, and NGV suppliers in New Jersey. Mr. Alba was a founding partner of ATA, an IT Consulting company which is still active in Central and South America. After leaving the armed forces, Mr. Alba’s initial employee was the U.S. Defense Department as an analyst.

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