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FreightWaves Flashback: JFK changing with the times

FreightWaves Flashback: JFK changing with the times

FreightWaves Classics articles look at various aspects of the transportation industry’s history. If there are topics that you think would be of interest, please send them to

The many industries that make up the world of freight have undergone tremendous change over the past several decades. Each week, FreightWaves explores the archives of American Shipper’s nearly 70-year-old collection of shipping and maritime publications to showcase interesting freight stories of long ago.

In this week’s edition, from the February 2002 issue of American Shipper (Pages 63-64), FreightWaves Flashback discusses JFK International Airport’s near-future plans for cargo expansion within its 1,700-acre boundaries.

Image: American Shipper

Despite a slide in airfreight volume that began last January, a recession and a terrorist attack in Manhattan that led to a war, JFK International Airport in neighboring Queens has tenants who are readying and refurbishing themselves for better times.

Jim Larsen, manager of air cargo business development of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, looked around at the new Korean Air Cargo facilities and an adjacent construction site, while going through a list of organizations that have, or are undergoing touch-ups or complete overhauls at JFK, including Continental Air Cargo, Lufthansa, the U.S. Postal Service, United Airlines Cargo, Japan Airlines and Alliance Airlines.

“For the past decade, we have been adding to our warehouse space to keep up with the times,” Larsen said. “We didn’t wait for everything to fall apart.”

But the New York/New Jersey region, in spite of a decrease of 17.5% in air cargo activity over the first three quarters of 2001, still accounted for 24.3% of all import volume and 17.6% of the total volume nationwide, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Larsen said that, first and foremost, JFK is an air cargo powerhouse, and that most likely it will remain that way.

“We are a major hub and we will continue to be,” he said. “People want to come to New York.”

There are certainly tenants who intend to remain in New York, and they are refurbishing their digs to prove it.

Continental Air Cargo has placed a great deal of confidence in its JFK operation, investing $27 million in a new facility at JFK, which the carrier hopes to open in June.

The space will be a thorough complement to Continental’s new 180,000-square-foot cargo facility in Newark, opened last April, said Dana Bates, Continental spokesperson. The two new facilities represent a $67 million investment by the air carrier. Furthermore, Continental plans to build a new $30 million cargo facility in Houston.

More importantly, Bates said, the new facilities will bring all of Continental’s JFK cargo operations under one roof.

“Because of the scope of our operations, we have to operate out of two buildings — one for import, one for export,” she said.

Image: American Shipper

Continental’s new facility will offer about 8,000 more square feet of office space, with a cargo area of more than 54,000 square feet and 16 cargo doors (which is 10 more than they have at their existing JFK site), in addition to six scales, compared to five at their current JFK facility. For an additional security measure, the site will have a protected and enclosed high-value freight storage area.

Continental made sure that their investments in JFK and Newark were based on careful analysis, Bates said, while adding that the new JFK facility is the result of several years’ planning.

“JFK is a key station to Continental’s cargo division. It is among Continental’s top four stations contributing to the airline’s cargo revenue,” Bates said.

A similar development just down the road is under construction for Lufthansa Cargo, Alliance Airlines and Cargo Service Center, a cargo service provider recently acquired by D. Logistics AG.

The development of the nearly 434,000-square-foot site, commonly known as Tract 8 and 9A, is under the watch of Airis Corp.

“We were the first private sector developer to develop, construct and finance an aviation facility at a port authority facility,” said Ron Factor, Airis’ executive vice president, and one of the company’s principals.

When the new facilities at Tract 8 and 9A are completed, the three companies will have access to 101 truck docks and enough space to accommodate six 747s at the same time.

One added feature in the architecture, added Airis, is a roof design with a clerestory window to allow natural light to flow into the cargo areas, which should enhance worker productivity while lowering energy costs.

The project, which started in August, is slated for completion in June 2003, Factor said. But the building will have to be done in increments that will coordinate with construction regulations. “We are in the process of obtaining building permits, and we will receive the first one in January 2002,” he said.

Factor said that the air cargo carriers have to update facilities to keep up with the incredibly swift nature of the air cargo industry. So they either refurbish what they already have or leave and start anew. A quick drive through JFK on Van Wyck Drive will prove this, as there are many vacant cargo buildings on both sides of the road. “A lot of them have run the course of their service life, and then it is time to move on. That is where we step in,” he said of Airis Corp. and other aviation construction companies.

Larsen added that there were other sites that had undergone some major cosmetics at JFK. United Airlines Cargo, he said, is in a facility about three years old that uses current technology and architecture.

Larsen, who came to JFK in 1960, said that when most people think of JFK, they think that the airport, like Manhattan, has reached its physical saturation point and has meager land space for new projects, or even refurbishing projects.

“It’s a myth that we are out of land,” Larson said of the 1,700-acre facility. “These parcels are all over the airport.” 

There is also another portion of land, commonly referred to as “East of the Fours,” an area of about 120 acres, that could possibly be attached to JFK. He also mentioned an area of land hosting three empty hangars on North Boundary Road. A public process has begun on biddings for that site, he said. The area, which houses around 235,000 square feet, had been owned by AEI and FedEx at separate times.

In another part of JFK, known as the “80 Series,” he pointed out several buildings that could be redeveloped. Not far from there is a building known as “Building 208.” A former Pan Am site, there are 400,000 square feet there waiting for a tenant.

Empty buildings or not, JFK participants are confident that their facilities are the best for air cargo worldwide.

Dive into American Shipper’s archives:

FreightWaves Flashback: A380 takes airplane competition to next level

FreightWaves Flashback: Study shows Pacific container trade slowing down

FreightWaves Flashback: Stowaways — a $20-million problem


22 February 2021, 20:15