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'Big economic linchpin:' Study strives to improve JFK's dwindling cargo tonnage

John F. Kennedy International Airport can have a robust air cargo industry again if it makes some improvements, according to a study released by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

Between 2000 and 2010, JFK fell from third to seventh in a nationwide ranking of air cargo tonnage. The airport’s tonnage also dropped 25 percent.

There are more than 50,000 area jobs in the air cargo industry, which provides more than $8.5 billion in sales in the New York and New Jersey metropolitan area.

For David Hopkins, director of aviation at the New York City EDC, the study demonstrates the significance of the air cargo industry.

“It verifies I think for us as a city how important the air cargo industry is to the city and the regional economy and showed us the tens of thousands of jobs that that industry supports region-wide,” he said. “It’s a pretty big economic linchpin.”

The study calls for improving truck access to the airport and replacing aging cargo facilities and business practices.

Hopkins spoke about why cargo tonnage at JFK has taken a nosedive, leading to airports such as O’Hare International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport capturing more of the market share that had before gone to JFK.

“With deregulation, as the number of these competing airports develop direct international flights, they begin to capture some of the market share that was originally destined for some of those places in the first place,” he said. “As the industry changed from a more freighter-oriented industry to a more belly-cargo-oriented industry, that trend was exaggerated.”

Though JFK has many strengths – such as an established network of freight forwarders and a large consumer market – Hopkins said he hopes that the airport acts on the study’s recommendations.

He said the Port Authority is looking into implementing some of the business solutions, and there are construction projects in progress at the airport, such as a truck-handling facility with enough room for 50 trucks.

There are also plans to build a new air cargo building and an animal-handling facility.

“As the industry regains its footing and grows again, Kennedy can participate in that growth if we put some of these recommendations in place,” Hopkins said.