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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 overall plans for development. RFD did not respond to request for further details. 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. 

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