Chicago weighs up new cargo hub

Proponents of a planned mostly-cargo airport on the far south side of Chicago hope that 2015 will be the year that the long-discussed project picks up some significant steam.
The concept of a South Chicago airport is not new; it was conceived about 25 years ago and has evolved to the point that the most likely scenario is that it will be a cargo airport aimed at offering an alternative to O’Hare International Airport, writes John McCurry.
South Suburban Airport (SSA) will develop around Bult Field, a small, general aviation airport in Will County. Bult Field is now owned by the Illinois Department of Transportation, which is in the process of purchasing 5,800 acres for SSA Development.
The project is temporarily on hold. A new governor is in office in Illinois and all of the interested parties are waiting to see how he weighs in on the proposal. The previous governor, Pat Quinn, was a driving force behind the SSA. Among the obstacles still to clear is FAA approval of the airport’s master plan.
Development of the airport will be through a public-private partnership arrangement. The State of Illinois has spent more than $86m thus far on the project. 
As yet, there have been no direct discussions by the Illinois DOT with cargo carriers, but there is apparent interest. Two representatives of Korean Air Cargo attended a public hearing on the airport last September.
Jim Giblin, a Chicago-area aviation consultant and long-time observer of the South Suburban Airport project, believes the planned airport would have great potential for integrators, especially UPS. 
DHL, which recently opened a huge new global forwarding center at O’Hare, is the only integrator with a hub in the Chicago area.
While UPS and FedEx both fly into O’Hare, UPS has a hub on the far north side in Rockford and FedEx’s nearest hub is in Indianapolis.
“The opportunity is there for UPS,” Giblin says. “Their largest ground sorting facility is in the Chicago area, which is midway between O’Hare and South Suburban. There is potential to connect to Hodgkins by intermodal rail. 
“There’s room to build an intermodal terminal at South Suburban. With Chicago being the railroad hub of North America, there are a lot of interesting dynamics.”
Will County has become a logistics hot spot in recent years, attracting numerous large distribution centres. The county has more than 165m sq ft of warehouse space, a fact that promoters of the new airport say makes it attractive as a cargo operation. 
There is some debate about the length of the proposed runway. The airport’s master plan calls for a 9,500 ft runway, which would be much longer then the current 5,000 ft runway.
But Giblin, who works with Flak International, an aviation consultancy, says that the runway should be at least 11,500 ft for a viable cargo operation.
Congresswoman Robin Kelly, who represents the district where the SSA resides, is a big proponent of the project and is also pushing for a longer runway.
Giblin says cargo carriers could benefit from much lower landing fees than at O’Hare, which are among the highest in the US. 
O’Hare’s published landing fee in 2014 was $7.295 per 1,000 pounds. The proposed fee at SSA would be the same as at Chicago Midway, which is $3.581 per 1,000 pounds.  
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