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Improving a Traditional Gateway Airport for Air Cargo
- David Hopkins, Senior Director of Aviation and Freight, New York City Economic Development Corp.

yellow square Background

John F. Kennedy International Airport is one of the major gateways in the United States for international air cargo shipments. While passenger enplanements at JFK continue to set new records, cargo movements, while increasing, remain below historic highs. The New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have undertaken several initiatives to enhance JFK. Key lessons learned seeking to grow the cargo business include:

yellow square Leverage your existing assets

Many factors go into making a successful cargo airport. To obtain a competitive advantage, an airport must have good physical infrastructure and human capital. The airport must offer a wide array of services, including specialized cargo handling. The airport must provide good access to local, regional, national and international markets. The list could go on and on. It is difficult to build the intricate web of business relationships and services from scratch. The expertise that exists with respect to cargo handling and shipment is an airport’s biggest asset from which to build more business.

Over time, these businesses have developed expertise in transporting all types of cargo, including the most exotic. To capitalize on this, a private developer constructed and opened The Ark, a modern animal handling facility. This facility makes JFK the preferred port of entry for horses, birds, breeding livestock and every type of animal shipped by air.

yellow square Remove impediments to doing business

The value of asking those involved in air cargo “what can we do to make it easier for you to conduct and to grow your business” can’t be overstated. Public agencies owe the businesses raising concerns a thorough examination of the issues and a response. A good example at JFK is access to the airport for trucks. We heard from trucking companies that the lack of a designated truck route to JFK for industry standard fifty- three-foot trailers was hurting JFK’s competiveness. In response, NYCEDC launched a joint effort with the City Department of Transportation and the Port Authority to designate a route for these trucks. This route connects JFK to key interstate highways to New England and the mid-Atlantic states.

In a similar vein, another impediment was the lack of a facility on or near the airport to service trucks bound for JFK. The trucks had no place to lay over or easily obtain fuel and the truck drivers had no place to rest or get food. The JFK Airport Travel Plaza a dedicated facility for trucks, where all these services are available, opened to great success several years ago. The owners say that the Seven-Eleven there serves the most coffee of any franchise in the United States.

yellow square Improve and modernize aging facilities

When the air cargo industry was in its infancy, JFK had vast amounts of open space in which cargo facilities could be placed. Many of those initial facilities have outlived their useful life. With modern and new facilities cargo businesses and airlines can take advantage of the newest technologies for handling cargo and can accommodate the largest passenger and cargo aircraft.

Future development at JFK will be based on a concept plan for reorganizing the cargo areas. The Port Authority has demolished several of the most obsolete buildings to create additional development parcels on airport. Groundbreaking for a new 350,000 square foot cargo facility is imminent. This new building will represent the continued commitment of the City and Port Authority to the viability of the JFK cargo market

yellow square Strengthen the local business community

A cohesive business community is also key to a successful air cargo airport. While businesses compete fiercely with one another, they also recognize the need to jointly advocate for their needs to the airport to the city government and to the broader community in general. JFK has the only dedicated airport Chamber of Commerce in the nation. Several other organizations are devoted to meeting the needs of the air cargo community, including the JFK Air Cargo Association, JFK Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders, the Long Island Import Export Association and the Kennedy Airport Airlines Management Committee. EDC and the Port Authority are active participants in these groups.

EDC worked with cargo businesses that are located off the airport to explore the concept of forming an industrial business improvement district. The Gateway JFK BID now enables businesses to speak with one voice for needed services, improvements and enhancements within the Springfield Gardens cargo area adjacent to JFK.

In addition, the City is working to promote and increase the use of the Foreign Trade Zone program that is available to import/export businesses in and around the airport. Usage of the program at JFK has more than doubled in the past three years. EDC hosted a business roundtable at which various city agencies presented an overview of the incentive programs and financing packages available to relocating or expanding businesses. Workforce development and recruitment programs were also highlighted.

yellow square Examine and streamline business practices

The Port Authority is also evaluating current business practices on-airport, including lease terms and rates and the overall approach to management of air cargo facilities at JFK. The Port Authority and EDC will soon be convening a Port Performance Task Force to formulate recommendations in more detail and recommend implementation actions to its management team

yellow square Market your airport and its assets

JFK (and EWR, the Port Authority’s sister facility in Newark) have increased their presence at major industry trade shows and conferences. People need to know about your current initiatives. And the best way to do that is to talk to industry peers at these events. Without an active marketing presence, the same old tired information and perceptions of how business is conducted at your airport will stand

yellow square Conclusion:

Macroeconomic factors and forces will, of course, play a major role in determining how successful the above initiatives will be in increasing business at JFK. But showing the cargo community that the host city and the airport operator, in this case New York City and the Port Authority, have a shared vision and commitment to improving the business environment is extremely important. Both entities are willing to take a critical look at the range of current policy, business and planning practices and devise a strategy to improve each. Growing your cargo business takes a long-term commitment. Continuous improvement and implementation of new initiatives and facilities is the byword for airports seeking to capture increased market share in today’s fast-changing economy.

David Hopkins
David Hopkins

yellow square Contact:

David Hopkins
Senior Director of Aviation,
New York City Economic Development Corp.

Email: dhopkins@edc.nyc
Tel: 212-312-3771

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