Crain's Chicago Business: Chicago needs a 21st-century airport (that's not in Chicago)
A world-class city needs a world-class cargo airport. But when it comes to air cargo, Chicago remains the Second City.
O'Hare International Airport's cargo volume declined 4.6 percent between 2011 and 2012, ranking it 20th worldwide. By comparison, New York's two main regional airports, John F. Kennedy International and Newark Liberty International, combined for a ranking of 10th in the world. Airports in Memphis, Louisville, Miami and Los Angeles each handled more air cargo tonnage than O'Hare did last year. What's wrong with this picture?
According to the International Air Transport Association, almost 60 percent of the world's air cargo volume moves in dedicated freighter aircrafts, with the balance moving as “belly cargo” on passenger planes. At O'Hare, this ratio is virtually the opposite. “Limited amount of (air) freighter service . . . available at O'Hare” was an issue raised in public comments submitted in 2010 in response to Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning's GO TO 2040 Draft Freight section. Consequently, if its focus clearly is not on the freighter market, how competitive can it be in serving the cargo market?
In the air cargo business, time and fuel equals money. At the world's most efficient modern airports such as Incheon near Seoul, South Korea, cargo terminals are no more than five minutes from the end of the runway. By contrast, at O'Hare, it can easily take 20 to 30 minutes after landing for cargo planes to finally reach their terminals, shut down engines and stop burning expensive aviation fuel.
GOOD FOR PASSENGERS, NOT CARGO
The modernization of O'Hare International Airport may be great for passengers, but it still leaves many dissatisfied air cargo customers wanting more. The Chicago region needs a modern, state-of-the-art cargo airport to meet the economic demands of the 21st century. And that airport is the South Suburban Airport in Will County.
SSA's rural location is conducive to nighttime air operations, mitigating concerns about noise pollution. Will County already is a global multimodal logistics hub, containing one-fifth of the region's total suburban industrial space. Extending Metra's Electric District to the airport would provide a convenient commuting option for south suburban residents as well as a direct rail connection to the Loop.
Funding for this project will be just as innovative and creative as its design. I believe that international infrastructure funds from Canada and Spain are prepared to use private money to finance construction and operation of the new South Suburban Airport. These same investors have expressed interest in funding the Metra extension to Peotone.
Chicago's Southland is America's ground zero for transportation innovation, of which the South Suburban Airport is an integral part.