Airport authority ramping up export business at Rickenbacker

Steve Wartenberg, The Columbus Dispatch

July 30, 2014

Six times a week, massive Boeing 747-8F aircraft land at Rickenbacker Airport and tons of products manufactured abroad are unloaded for regional distribution. But nothing - made in central Ohio or anywhere, for that matter - is loaded onto these flying freighters for delivery to their final destination in Asia and Europe.

Officials of the Columbus Regional Airport Authority are working with two cargo airlines and a freight forwarder to change that and turn Rickenbacker into a gateway for exports.

"This is part of our global Columbus effort," Mayor Michael B. Coleman said. "When these aircraft land in Columbus, they should take products onboard and distribute them around the world. ... The goal is to create jobs here."

Starting in September, freight forwarder Consolidated Aviation Services will provide warehousing services at Rickenbacker. Cathay Pacific Cargo will carry products back to Asia; Cargolux will take products to Europe.

Local officials are encouraging Ohio companies to ship their exports from Rickenbacker and CAS, as it's known, will work with its current slate of customers to bring them to Rickenbacker.

"We are delighted to be opening operations in Columbus, and see outstanding potential for this market to grow quickly," Guido DiGiandomenico, CAS' vice president, sales, said in a statement.

Rickenbacker's central location is a selling point.

"It's surrounded by cities that are less than a three-hour drive: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit and (Indianapolis), plus all the customers in the Columbus region," said Bridget Bell, Cathay Pacific's cargo manager, Midwest.

Products that could be exported include fashions made here, auto parts made in Ohio and Michigan, pharmaceuticals from the Indianapolis area, and aircraft engines manufactured in the Cincinnati area, she said.

Cathay Pacific and Cargolux each have three flights a week into Rickenbacker. Their 747s hold about 120 tons of cargo, and much of what is unloaded here are products manufactured overseas by L Brands, Abercrombie & Fitch and other local fashion companies.

"About 40 to 60 tons come off here," said David Whitaker, the airport authority's vice president of business development.

All six flights originate in Hong Kong, stop in Alaska to refuel and then continue to Columbus, with additional stops in either Chicago or New York. The Cathay Pacific flights then return to Hong Kong, while the Cargolux flights go to Luxembourg.

Goods for export are loaded onto the 747s in Chicago and New York.

"As long-established global gateways, Chicago and New York have been the primary export gateways in the Eastern United States," Whitaker said. "Atlanta and Cincinnati are also, to a lesser extent, but they do export and Miami is a big export location to South America."

Products from local companies are trucked to those airports, he said.

"Our task is to make sure these freight forwarders are aware of their options here," Whitaker said. "We have a lower cost, a higher quality of service and speed that isn't available at the other gateways."