US, German airports join forces to boost cargo connection

Aerial photo of UPS planes at Rockford Airport near Chicago.

Recent collaboration between Chicago Rockford International Airport and Cologne Bonn Airport (CGN) in Germany is expected to result in direct international air service from parcel giant UPS and several other all-cargo carriers later this year, said Rockford Cargo Director Ken Ryan.

Rockford Airport (RFD), a burgeoning air hub for cargo located about 70 miles northwest of O’Hare International Airport, and CGN on Monday announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding to mutually develop air cargo traffic and share best practices. The two airports hope to create a more synchronized air link with similar operational standards and capabilities on each end that will be attractive to cargo airlines and logistics companies eager to avoid bottlenecks currently plaguing many gateway airports. 

“With our goals aligned, together we can enhance services and capabilities benefitting our cargo customers,” Mike Dunn, executive director of Chicago Rockford International Airport, said in a statement.

Ryan told American Shipper that marketing, finance and operational teams from both airports have been working together since last year to coordinate cargo efforts.  

“You can expect to see in the coming months announcements of services between Rockford and Cologne, which will be a direct result of both airports working with forwarders and airlines together as a team,” Ryan said. 

RFD, the 17th-largest cargo airport in the U.S. by volume, has rapidly grown into a major regional hub for UPS (NYSE: UPS) and Amazon Air (NASDAQ: AMZN), and is building new facilities to support increased air charter activity. Cologne Bonn Airport is home for UPS’ European air hub. DHL Express (DIX: DPW) and FedEx (NYSE: FDX) also operate regional hubs at CGN, which also is part of Amazon Air’s nascent European network. The airport is the third largest in the German air freight segment. It is a top 10 airport in Europe one of the 30 largest freight airports in the world. 

UPS utilizes RFD to support its domestic network, connecting the East and West coasts to the Midwest, with some flights also to and from the UPS Worldport in Louisville, Kentucky. But Ryan indicated UPS is likely to soon launch international service between RFD and Cologne, as well as Asia.  

Last year, Rockford built three new parking spots for large Boeing 747-8 aircraft by the UPS ramp, and UPS helped the airport convince the Federal Aviation Administration to issue a grant toward part of the cost, Ryan said. 

The UPS Airlines fleet includes 21 747-8 production freighters, with seven more scheduled for delivery through 2022, according to UPS. 

Bolstering the case for a direct connection between RFD and CGN is the fact that Germany is Illinois’ third-largest export market after Canada and Mexico, and fourth-largest origin point for imports. 

CGN, which processed 863,000 metric tons of cargo last year, is located in the major industrial and urban region of North Rhine-Westphalia. 

RFD, which was named the fastest-growing cargo airport in the world in 2019 by Airports Council International, increased cargo volume by 17% last year to 383,915 metric tons. It is in the middle of a $43 million expansion of cargo buildings to accommodate the private air networks of German freight forwarders DB Schenker and Senator International. Rockford hired a representative in Europe, where many of the world’s major freight forwarders are headquartered, seven year ago to help attract business. 

Establishing operations at Rockford is part of a growing trend in which shippers are diversifying supply chains to reduce dependence on passenger hubs in favor of airports that specialize in cargo. 

The airport cooperation agreement is also a vehicle for the airports to share ideas on a variety of issues, including alleviating ground handling challenges, security, and how to adapt real estate both inside and outside airport property. 

Ryan noted that CGN has a full-time real estate department that could be a model for RFD.

Additionally, the airports said they expect to work on new initiatives to develop innovative handling systems for e-commerce cargo.

Cologne Bonn, for example, separates general freight and e-commerce that is carried by freighters and passenger aircraft not part of express networks. Both types of cargo have different handling and customs requirements. The crush of small package shipments is one of the factors making it difficult for warehouses at major airports to efficiently consolidate and deconsolidate loads, and make them ready for delivery.

Spokesperson Susanne Beyreuther said CGN plans to develop more dedicated e-commerce and general freight warehouses.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


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