Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Illinois to go for a Cargo Airport?


Are Illinois officials serious about turning the incredible shrinking airport planned in eastern Will County, Illinois, just 40 miles south of Chicago, into a cargo airport?

AllianceTexas DevelopmentIDOT's latest metamorphosis that went from an initial plan to build a mega-airport more than 3 times the size of O'Hare International Airport, to a one-runway commercial facility has now shifted toward a cargo airport. At least that was the gist of a recent news story in DC Velocity Magazine.

The magazine reported, that Will County and the State of Illinois would develop a cargo airport as part of an ambitious multimodal transport complex that would include up to four intermodal rail yards, access to three interstate highways, and up to 135 million square feet of industrial warehousing and distribution space.

This must be IDOT's latest we'll do anything, draw-at-straws option. A cargo airport would be risky, and costly. Only one such airport exists in the world.

Alliance Airport in Ft. Worth, Texas

Alliance Airport in Ft. Worth, Texas, is not just an airport. It is an entire one-of-a kind devel-opment built by Ross Perot, Jr. The airport is owned by the City of Fort Worth, but managed by Alliance Air Services.

The airport is a small part of the development plan which includes 17,000 acres of industrial warehousing, residential communities, corporate living, apartments, hotels, shopping, and even proximity to NASCAR's Texas International Speedway. The plan was so meticulous that it has even inventoried the 36,166 trees on the site. This is the world's first and presently the only in-dustrial airport.

The 5,900-acre airport opened in 1989. Since that time, it has become home to a collection of government, national, and international corporations. There are presently between 60 and 756,000 square feet of vacant industrial properties available for sale or rent within five minutes of the airport, according to the company's website.

Cargo-only airport eyed in Pennsylvania

In 2007, the FAA approved a $1.6 billion cargo-only airport in the Hazleton area of Pennsyl-vania, but it is in the very preliminary stages. By Peotone standards of development, the PA project would be at about the same stage that Peotone was in 1986.

According to the Pennsylvania State Legislative Budget and Finance Committee Report High-lights, "The proposed Hazleton cargo airport could follow a successful track, such as Alliance Fort Worth, or be unsuccessful, such as the North Carolina Global TransPark and MidAmerica Airport near St. Louis."

Peotone Airport opponents are well versed on IDOT's other pet project — the MidAmerica Air-port, calling it Peotone's  "poster child." Mid-America has been virtually void of activity for nearly its entire 11-year existence.

Market Watch.com reported that John D. Kasarda, Ph.D., director of the Kenan Institute of North Carolina, Chapel Hill questioned the wisdom of trying to build a cargo-only airport.

Calling a cargo-only airport a "challenge," Kasarda said it would especially be a challenge in a greenfield site. He said getting regular air cargo service is difficult, even in a dynamic area.

First proposed in 2003, but still just talk

Illinois officials first discussed a cargo airport at Peotone in 2003 though it never got farther than the talking stage.

Susan Shea, IDOT's Director of Aeronautics Division, whose job description now includes five bureaus including The Bureau of the South Suburban Airport, may have missed those discus-sions since they took place prior to her appointment to the transportation department by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Shea was an Illinois bureaucrat, but rather than transportation, Shea worked in the education department.

The question of a cargo-only facility had been posed for many years, though it was given little credence. Because of a lack of interest by the airline industry, the state acknowledged that it could consider cargo, not passengers.

“Nothing has been ruled out,” said the 2003 IDOT Spokesman, Mike Monseur, at the time.

Monseur added that no decision had been made as to what kind of facility the Peotone airport would be. He indicated, however, that there had been discussion on just how to use the airport.

“Regarding making it solely a cargo or mixture of both hasn’t been determined,” he said.

Cargo industry suffers economic woes

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), global airlines are reporting just this week, losses in the range of $11 billion in 2009.

This far exceeds what was reported last year when the first gloomy predictions of $2.5 billion losses were made in March 2008. Revisions throughout the year were revised to as high as $9 billion in losses, but were still exceeded by economic reality.

Giovanni Bisignani, the chief executive of the IATA says such falling yields have never before been seen. And the IATA has been tracking yields for 64 years.

"North American carriers are expected to post losses of $2.6 billion, more than double the pre-viously forecast loss of $1 billion."

IDOT continues long-held patterns 

IDOT officials and another in a long line of Illinois governors continue the Peotone mantra de-spite current economic realities and grim predictions for recovery. As is customary, IDOT is remiss in seeing the big, and/or entire picture as it relates to Peotone.

Officials fail to consider the new cargo facility at the Chicago/Rockford International Airport, improvements and influx of cash to the Gary/Chicago International Airport, and the ongoing cargo operation at O'Hare.

Not only do officials ignore the unlikelyhood of success in developing a cargo-only facility when it has only been done once before, and by a man with seeming very deep pockets, but they gloss over the current chaos within the industry, borne out by real numbers, and the state's own budget shortfalls.

When it comes to the 40-year old discussion to build a new airport in the cornfields of eastern Will County, IDOT is disingenuous at best as it continues its pattern of unbelieveability and lack of credibility.