The big news out this week, was the announced signing of a long-term ground lease agreement between The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey with Aeroterm, the cargo logistics subsidiary of the real estate investment platform, Realterm, for the development of a long-awaited, state-of-the-art cargo facility at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Work is due to commence this SEP21, and the project should be completed by the end of 2023.
Port Authority Chairman, Kevin O’Toole, expressed “This cargo modernization program is a critical step forward in the overall redevelopment of JFK airport, at a time air cargo is vital to our
regional economic vitality. We look forward to working with Aeroterm to raise our cargo capabilities to state-of-the-art standards.”
Words in a 2021 press release that strongly echo the exact same content with regard to targets, MWBE goals, and collaboration partners, sent out already in 2017: “We are transforming JFK into a world-class, state-of-the art airport and -- with this new cargo facility -- a major economic engine. With this much-needed modernization of JFK's cargo operations, we will help create jobs and support economic growth across the entire New York metropolitan area for years to come,” Governor Cuomo said four years ago, whilst WFS’ Americas CEO, Michael Duffy then admitted: “We have been working on this project for some time and it is a proud day for WFS and for JFK to see the commitment Governor Cuomo, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Aeroterm are making to this wonderful airport and this magnificent new cargo facility.” That “some time” and regular, similar annual media reports later, begs the question: what, besides the recent pandemic, has been happening at JFK these past 4 years when it comes to cargo?
Big budget, big upheaval
Aeroterm’s Vice President for Development, Greg Russel stated: “This project is a key step in revitalizing JFK’s air cargo sector, and we are proud to work alongside the visionary Port Authority executive team. We look forward to kicking off this exciting project.” That project is expected to create 100 permanent jobs alongside 350 construction jobs and subcontracting opportunities over the 2 years it will take to complete what will be the first new building to be constructed at JFK in 20 years.
It first requires the demolition of two existing 40-year-old, obsolete facilities. Demolition work is planned to start in SEP21. Once completed, a 32,500 m², state-of-the-art cargo facility will then be built on an area measuring over 105,200 m². The investment listed at USD 132 in 2107, is now in the region of USD 145. The new cargo facility’s ramp capacity will allow for the simultaneous handling of three large freighters, and over 50 dock doors will enable quick transfers from/to truck to plane. Advanced technology will support in ensuring maximum handling and storage efficiencies. It will also house a dedicated temperature-controlled area for handling pharmaceutical products.
Bring back and expand those cargo volumes
WFS will be exclusive cargo handler operating in the new facility. Its Executive Vice President, Mike Simpson enunciated: “JFK has a major opportunity right now to expand its cargo operations, given its location and direct access to all of the major airport hubs worldwide. This new streamlined facility will be able to handle significant cargo volumes, ease cooperation between airlines operating within carrier alliances and optimize the use of technology, equipment and resource planning.”
The press release points out that “In 2020, 1.2 million tons of cargo were processed at JFK, putting it among the top seven airports nationwide.” Yet, the fact is, around the turn of the Millennium, JFK was handling closer to 1.7 million tons, and its figures have been on a steady decline since 2004. Efficient is not an adjective associated with the airport currently when it comes to cargo handling. The airport, which today “supports 73,000 total [cargo] jobs, $12.5 billion in sales and nearly $4.4 billion in wages,” has a great deal of room for improvement in its cargo figures.
Great facility, shame about the bottleneck
In Joseph Alba’s 07JAN19 article “Is Cargo In JFK’s Future?”, Shawn McWhorter, President for the Americas at Nippon Cargo Airlines (NCA) is quoted as saying “If you put a little oasis in the middle of the airport that you can’t get to, that’s of little help.” The article criticizes not only the old, cramped, existing cargo facilities, but also the stifling congestion on the poorly signed, single Van Wyck Expressway leading to the airport, alongside the inadequate airport roads and truck parking facilities. Access is a serious, long-term problem that has been discussed at many a JFK forwarder meeting.
The recent 2021 press release, whilst full of praising quotes for the pending redevelopment project, makes no mention whatsoever as to whether plans to improve the road access situation that were once on the table, will be taken up again. “We applaud Aeroterm and the Port Authority for this groundbreaking development that will bring needed facilities to the north cargo area,” Scott Grimm-Lyon, Executive Director of GatewayJFK, said. “We support the efforts to modernize and consolidate freight operations at the airport so local businesses can benefit from the increased volume of belly cargo that is expected when redevelopment of the passenger terminals is completed.”
That belly cargo, too, needs to be able to enter and leave the airport on roads. The new cargo facility will be finished at around the time IATA has predicted that passenger travel will be back to 2019 levels. Perhaps, the road problem will be tackled in the interim.
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