Millions of pieces of personal protective equipment from Asia are landing at the cargo-only port south of Columbus for distribution to medical facilities and elsewhere.

RCS Logistics used to land planes full of clothes and apparel at Rickenbacker International Airport. Today, it’s bringing hundreds of tons of personal protective equipment from Asia.

The Hong Kong-based air freight forwarder is among logistics companies adapting in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic to help connect health care providers with badly needed medical supplies.

“Once Covid-19 started hitting the U.S., we got requests from a few of our customers,” RCS President Brian Heaney says. “As we were able to move this product, we started trying to get the word out that we'd be able to assist hospitals and governments.”

Since mid-March, RCS has been handling three Kalitta Air flights per week with between 300,000 and 500,000 kilos of medical supplies from Shanghai. Separate deliveries by carriers Cathay Pacific and Cargolux are coming in from Hong Kong. The flights had been scheduled to carry retail apparel but, thanks to referrals from RCS customers and state contacts, now include millions of N95 masks, scrubs, gowns, goggles and ventilators.

“I’m doing an order right now, I think it’s 20 million masks for (hospitals in) the state of Ohio,” Heaney says.

RCS is bringing medical supplies through other U.S. markets, including Cincinnati, but the majority are arriving at Rickenbacker. The airport’s operator, the Columbus Regional Airport Authority, helps move cargo from 747 aircraft to RCS’ 50,000-square-foot facility on George Page Jr. Road. Rickenbacker also happens to be one of the world’s only cargo-dedicated airports and conveniently located for distribution to the eastern U.S.

“As people started to get sick, we were worried about having labor to help unload the aircraft at other airports,” Heaney says, “so Rickenbacker has been a huge competitive advantage for us.”

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RCS continues serving retail clients, but to a lesser degree. Medical supplies mean less revenue for the company, but Heaney says it’s a way to keep their routes active. And he doesn’t expect the need to disappear anytime soon.

“We're thinking that the PPE needs are going to be extensive. As the U.S. starts to open back up again, we think that not only the medical field but also regular civilians are going to need equipment like this in order to go through our everyday lives for quite a while,” he says. “We're really proud to be helping out and helping all these people with the Covid-19 virus. What started out as a little bit of a business opportunity for us has turned into something we’ve become really passionate about.”

As passenger flights have plummeted at John Glenn International Airport, Rickenbacker has been a saving grace for the airport authority, which oversees both facilities. Regularly scheduled cargo traffic at Rickenbacker is lower but revenue is expected to be down just 3 percent in April and May. The authority says it is receiving federal stimulus money totaling $33.8 million.

Evan Weese is a freelance writer.