Laredo Airport set for cargo apron renovation, expanded customs program

Southern Texas’ Laredo International Airport (LRD) plans to leverage a federal grant received last week to rehabilitate its cargo apron, Airport Director Jeffrey Miller told Air Cargo World. Miller also added that the airport is pursuing a new customs program that would enable easier cross-border operations between the U.S. and Mexico.

LRD’s awarded federal grant is from the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) in the amount of US$8.3 million. This amount is supplemented by $1.6 million in entitlement funds and a local match from airport revenue of about $1.1 million. In total, LRD has accumulated just under $11 million in funds for airport projects.

With this funding, LRD plans to rehabilitate its existing cargo apron, which when completed will have a new ramp capable of handling 37 757 aircraft simultaneously. The project will enable cargo aircraft operating out of LRD to park in the expanded area. Miller said that with the expanded cargo apron,  as well as LRD’s policy of not charging ramp fees for 10 days, cargo operators will have “an opportunity to stage aircraft here” until cargo shipments arrive.

LRD is a foreign trade zone (FTZ) and is also the only airport in the country with Mexico and U.S. Customs open 24-hours a day, 365-days a year, which allows trade to leave Laredo and land in Mexico as a domestic flight, Miller explained. The airport is currently working with Mexican officials to enhance the cargo program and allow more companies to use its service.

Under current regulations, carriers can undertake direct flights from LRD to Mexico, but for that to be financially viable, “you have to have the volume to fill a 727 or an MD-80,” Miller said. Under new regulations approved by Mexican Customs authorities but still waiting for legal approval, it would be possible for, “for example, a pallet of automotive parts in Laredo, to get pre-cleared by Mexico, put on to a FedEx or a UPS aircraft and continue to a hub like Memphis or Louisville as pre-cleared, and then leave Louisville or Memphis to Guadalajara, for example, as a domestic cargo shipment from Mexico.”

Returning to LRD’s expansion plans, the project also includes drainage improvements of the existing storm drain system within the cargo apron rehabilitation limits and the installation of an eight-foot chain-link fence to replace the existing six-foot chain-link fence that will be demolished to allow construction of the cargo apron.

LRD has two parallel runways large enough to accommodate Antonov aircraft, but most freighters operating at the airport are nearer the size of MD-80s and carry cargo for the automotive and aerospace industries, as well as electronic components, Laredo’s Miller said. In 2018, the airport saw around 311,000 tonnes of cargo. For 2019 year-to-date LRD has already seen over 326,0 00 tonnes of cargo.

Beyond this work, the airport has several other upcoming plans, including its land use development study, which will determine a roadmap for land development around the airport for both aeronautical and non-aeronautical projects. LRD is also conducting an economic impact study to better demonstrate the direct, indirect, and induced effects created by the airport for the region.

“We are concentrating our efforts with the land use development to enhance cargo service, commercial air service, and general aviation including creating a flight school,” Laredo’s Miller said. Other potential projects in LRD’s future include storage facilities for air cargo and cold storage for pharmaceutical shipments.

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