Airmail Decline Brings Airport Cargo Numbers Down

May 17, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Cargo traffic at Gerald R. Ford International Airport is down from last year, largely because less airmail is being shipped and received.

The numbers at the end of October showed that cargo was down 12 percent overall for the year. Mail shipments, which have fallen by a third, led the decline.

In contrast, outgoing and incoming freight was near last year’s level, only off by 2.5 percent for the year through October.

One reason why mail was down for October is that the U.S. Postal Service is handling shipments differently after the terrorist attacks and the anthrax outbreak.

“The other thing that occurred was Emery, which had been the Postal Service’s national contractor, lost that contract in August and that contract went to Federal Express. So that is the other change that could have affected our numbers,” said James Koslosky, Kent County Aeronautics director.

But then there is the recession, a bigger factor for the cargo business.

“Since March, we’ve been in a recession and with recessions come a downturn in freight and mail activity as a general rule,” he added.

“That’s just because there is nothing magic about the airport and our services here. We’re just a mirror of the regional economy. When the regional economy is healthy, cargo and passenger traffic grows. When it’s flat, it’s flat, or when it’s declining, it’s declining.”

But freight shipments were up 33 percent for October, even though mail was down by nearly 80 percent for the month.

Despite the airmail drop, GFIA still averaged 200,456 pounds of total cargo shipped and received each day in October, a figure slightly above the 200,000-pound daily average the airport recorded last year when total cargo topped 75 million pounds for the year.

“That is good news, obviously,” said Koslosky of the freight figure for October. “But, generally, again, cargo follows the economic cycle and we lag that a little bit sometime.”

By that statement Koslosky means that the effects of an economic downturn may take a while to show up in the airport’s cargo business.

It could be a few more months before GFIA officials and the cargo haulers know exactly where the business stands in relation to the recession.

“We may not have caught up yet,” he said.

Three major air cargo carriers serve GFIA.

In addition to Emery Worldwide and Fed Ex, Airborne Express flies freight.

DHL Airways also carries goods in and out of the airport. All the carriers worked with the Postal Service since Sept. 11 to tighten security for both freight and mail, changes the airport isn’t involved in.

With the year rapidly coming to a close, Koslosky wasn’t certain that the airport would reach last year’s total cargo figure, which includes freight and mail, of 75 million pounds.

“I think that looks shaky, given the economy, and, again, it’s the economy. I don’t think the events affected cargo as much as the recession has,” he said.

“I think we’re going to be flat this year. And depending on how fast the economy rebounds will determine how we’ll do next year.”     

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