Local Government tackles New York City’s ‘sagging’ air cargo industry

New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) 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. Yesterday, the 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.

Those are some grim numbers by any standard. But with airfreight finally on the rebound, Garodnick is in a better position to ask for meaningful investment in air freight infrastructure.

It also helps that even 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.

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