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Stronger air-freight services get close look

John Seelmeyer

If you want to watch how the northern Nevada economy is performing, you could do worse than track air freight statistics at Reno Tahoe International Airport.

A new study from researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno, confirms what observers long have thought: Air freight shipments grow at almost exactly the same rate as the region’s economy.

The statistics aren’t of interest just to academics.

As the region’s economy continues to grow, airport officials are beginning to take a look at new facilities to handle increased amounts of air freight.

Air cargo shipments from the airport last year totaled more than 100 million pounds, an increase of 17 percent over the previous year, says the new study by Dr.

Kambiz Raffiee and Dick Bartholet of the Small Business Development Center at UNR.

Those figures reflect the fact that the northern Nevada economy strongly outperformed the rest of the nation last year.

Air cargo shipments nationwide were up only 1.7 percent in 2002, the Airports Council International said last week.

For the first five months of this year, air freight shipments from Reno were down 3.5 percent.

Raffiee and Bartholet calculated that every addition of 1,000 jobs to the region’s economy boosts the airport’s monthly air freight business by 481,080 pounds.

Given the region’s history of solid growth, that means strong increases in air freight shipments are a near certainty.

But when UNR researchers surveyed more than 100 companies in the region, they found several potential roadblocks to growth of the air freight business:

* Some companies say carriers’ cut-off times are too early in the day to allow them to use air shipments as often as they like.

* The smaller craft that carriers use from Reno sometimes limit shippers’ abilities to palletize merchandise.

* The lack of direct connections to U.S.

and international destinations leads shippers to use truck lines to haul shipments to San Francisco or Sacramento for shipment by air.

Their thinking: Every time a shipment is handled, the risk of damage, delays or loss rises.

* Some shippers see the need for a cross-dock warehousing facility at the airport to handles air freight.

* Knowledge about the air freight services available from Reno sometimes is spotty especially when it comes to the customs and immigration facilities available at the airport.

The Airport Authority board and its executive staff are taking close looks at several of these issues.

“We don’t ever want to be an impediment to growth,” said Adam Mayberry, the airport’s community relations manager.

Airport executives are particularly focused on the need to develop more service more direct flights and larger aircraft to meet shippers’ needs.

Thomas Medland, director of marketing and air service development, said research such as the recently completed UNR study will become the basis of presentations by airport officials to air freight companies.

Airport officials also are studying potential development of new facilities to handle air freight.

Medland said land is available on the south side of the airport south of the passenger terminal for those facilities.

But he said the multi-million dollar project would need commitments from the air freight companies that would lease space, and those carriers don’t want to invest too far ahead of demand.

At the same time, the airport doesn’t want to be caught in a capacity crunch.

“Being an airport, we have to be four or five years ahead of the curve,” Medland said.

Development of a cross-dock warehousing facility to handle air freight probably would be handled by a private developer,Medland said, and airport officials have talked with companies that might be interested in that work.

The Airport Authority board, meanwhile, showed interest last week in developing an educational program about the air freight capabilities of Reno Tahoe International Airport.

If that effort is successful, it would further build shipments and encourage freight carriers to strengthen their position in Reno.


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