Cargo deluge tests Ohio airport amid US shipments


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Columbus (AFP)

After months of dealing with increased demand, officials at Rickenbacker International Airport in the United States realized this spring that they were too tight to take on all the new business.

“There are actually flights that are refused just because we want to make sure that we can take care of the customers with whom we have already engaged,” Charles Goodwin, director of airport operations at Columbus told AFP. Regional Airport Authority.

Rickenbacker’s dilemma is a sign of why economists are increasingly concerned that overloaded supply chains are slowing or derailing the global economic recovery from the Covid-19 slowdown.

As retailers and manufacturers scramble to bypass massive delays at ports, some have turned to Rickenbacker, a cargo-focused airport whose location in Columbus, Ohio offers quick access to major highways, allowing truckers reach nearly half of the population of the United States and a third of Canada in one day.

But Ohio is not immune to supply chain and labor issues that have raised questions about the availability of merchandise for the upcoming holiday season.

“It’s not all about volume,” said Goodwin, who hopes strong customer service will position the airport for even greater growth in the post-pandemic era. A key priority with air freight is speed and reliability.

“The cargo has been left for weeks” at other airports, Goodwin said. “We’re trying not to be that airport.”

– E-commerce boom –

Originally built during WWII as a military base, Rickenbacker was handed over to local authorities in the 1980s.

After months of dealing with increased demand, officials at Rickenbacker International Airport realized this spring they were too tense to take on all the new business. MEGAN JELINGER AFP

The facility is currently home to a small passenger business run by Allegiant Air that is focused on the domestic market, but is part of a small group of US airports known primarily for cargo service.

Columbus has long been a center for apparel as the home of the businesses of Les Wexner, the mogul behind L Brands, whose labels once included The Limited, Victoria’s Secret, and Abercrombie & Fitch.

Wexner’s operations have developed distribution channels in the United States beyond the Midwest and have been a key first source of international freight shipments to Rickenbacker from manufacturing centers in Asia.

The airport’s freight influx now also includes computer electronics, manufacturing parts and personal protective equipment. Even before the pandemic, international shipment volumes began to increase rapidly over the past decade with the growth of e-commerce.

This has sparked a construction boom within two miles of the airport, where companies like Amazon, Gap and Lululemon have large warehouses and undeveloped land sells out quickly.

The enormous growth in e-commerce logistics has helped make Columbus the fastest growing city in the Midwest, said Ned Hill, professor of economic development at Ohio State University.

Dogs search cargo from international flights at Rickenbacker International Airport, where consignments that would normally arrive by sea arrived by air
Dogs search for cargo from international flights at Rickenbacker International Airport, where consignments that would normally come by sea arrived by air MEGAN JELINGER AFP

Columbus “has been able to create many low-skilled jobs” through its logistics industry, Hill said, adding that the city has a “portfolio economy.”

– Ask for help –

Cargo deliveries have increased significantly over the past year as water transport has become more expensive and longer. Carriers like Cathay Pacific and Emirates have converted large passenger planes to cargo, in some cases removing seats.

The change brought unlikely loads to Rickenbacker, like three Boeing 747s full of Halloween costumes, said Bryan Schreiber, director of air cargo business development.

Such items would normally be loaded onto ships, Schreiber said.

Rickenbacker has increased the number of monthly international trips from 80 to 90 to around 160 now.

To manage the current deluge, Rickenbacker officials are monitoring approximately 10 to 15 private and public organizations in real time across the airport ecosystem, including U.S. customs authorities and key warehouses that must be able to accommodate fresh cargoes.

The vacancy rate for local warehouses is around three percent and is spinning fast, said Mike Hurd, senior manager at Cushman & Wakefield in Columbus.

The crowded nature of the warehouses, along with the limited source of labor, are the main reasons Rickenbacker does not expect to increase shipping levels further in 2021.

A quick drive through the neighborhood near the airport results in a sea of ​​’help wanted’ signs for truckers, forklift drivers and warehouse workers, in some cases offering signing bonuses of $ 1,000. $. Rickenbacker also increased the base salary.

Some of the hiring signs posted around Rickenbacker International Airport in Columbus, Ohio, as companies seek to recruit scarce workers
Some of the hiring signs posted around Rickenbacker International Airport in Columbus, Ohio, as companies seek to recruit scarce workers MEGAN JELINGER AFP

Schreiber believes that Rickenbacker and the surrounding area have enough land to potentially quadruple flights over the next decade, contrasting the terrain with the congested airports of Chicago and New York.

“They are going to expand this airport long after I retire,” he said.