Cargo business taking off at region’s airports

By Chuck Crumbo
Published May 2, 2012

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The air cargo business appears to be on the upswing as most major airports across the Southeast report increases in the amount of freight handled for March and the first quarter.

Cargo traffic often offers a fairly accurate measure of how the economy is doing, said Dan Mann, executive director of the Columbia Metropolitan Airport in South Carolina.

“Cargo is usually a leading indicator,” Mann said. “I think, regionally, cargo is doing very, very well.”

All but one of the region’s major airports surveyed for this report posted increases in freight traffic for the first three months of 2012. The lone exception was Tampa International in Florida.

The region’s leader in the amount of freight handled was Tennessee’s Memphis International, the main hub of Memphis-based FedEx Corp.

In March, Memphis International handled 787.7 million pounds of freight, a 1.9% increase over the 772.4 million pounds it handled for the same month in 2011.

For the first three months of 2012, Memphis moved 2.17 billion pounds of cargo, an increase of 3.3% over 2.1 billion pounds a year ago.

Coming in second was Louisville International in Kentucky, home of United Parcel Service’s Worldport.

The amount of express cargo handled at Louisville in March totaled 414.3 million pounds, down 3.9% from the 431 million pounds for the same month last year, the airport reported.

During the first quarter of 2012, the airport handled 4.781 billion pounds of cargo, a 0.1% decrease compared 4.786 billion pounds handled in the first three months of 2011.

At Columbia, where Atlanta-based UPS has its Southeast regional hub, the cargo business for first quarter business was up.

Total cargo — the amount loaded and unloaded — increased 1% for the first three months of 2012 to 31.7 million pounds compared to 31.1 million pounds for the initial quarter of 2011.

March’s figures at Columbia were down 3.9% compared with the same month in 2011. The amount of cargo handled last month at Columbia totaled 11.8 million pounds compared to 12.5 million for March 2011.

Amazon recently opened a 1 million-square-foot fulfillment center in Cayce, some six miles from the airport.

“We have no idea how much is due to cargo from Amazon,” Mann said. “But, they’re here, and cargo is going in a positive direction.”

UPS says that its 281,000-square-foot facility at Columbia can handle up to 41,000 packages and documents per hour. UPS added that the Columbia facility averages 10 flights daily, and serves Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Meanwhile Greensboro, N.C., is feeling the impact of being home to the new FedEx Express air cargo sorting hub.

The Piedmont Triad International Airport reported an 18% increase in freight traffic for the first quarter compared to the same period in 2011, according to The Business Journal in Greensboro.

The publication reported that FedEx had seen its Triad cargo shipments increase 42% to 14.5 million pounds through March.

For the first quarter, the Greensboro airport handled 23.2 million pounds of freight, an 18% increase over 19.6 million pounds reported for the initial three months of 2011, the Journal said.

In Florida, Miami and Tampa reported mixed results for freight traffic during the first quarter.

Miami International notched a 3.5% increase in cargo for the quarter, climbing to 889 million pounds.

Tampa International, meanwhile, said cargo for March dropped about 5.8% to 16.2 million pounds from 17.2 million for the same month in 2011. For the quarter, Tampa reported cargo slipped 3.8% to 45.8 million pounds from 47.8 million for the first quarter in 2011.

Quarterly statistics were not available for Atlanta, Charlotte, Charleston, and Greenville-Spartanburg, and Jacksonville airports.

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