Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Airport authority scrambling to handle more cargo traffic
LVIA plans to expand in time for holiday shipping
By Edward Sieger
WFMZ TV Ch 69, Allentown (PA)
HANOVER TWP., Pa. - As cargo flights continue to fuel growth at Lehigh Valley International Airport, officials there are now pressing to handle more cargo planes in time for the expected holiday shipping rush.
The Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority board on Tuesday approved a $451,000 contract with C&S Companies, one of the authority’s engineering consultants, to design a sixth cargo apron in the southwest corner of the airport property off Postal Road.
The project will be under a tight timetable as the freight carriers that fly out of LVIA would like to see the expansion completed by Nov. 1 ahead of the holiday shopping season. Authority Executive Director Charles Everett said C&S will work in concert with AECOM, the engineering firm that designed the existing five-spot cargo apron.
The 8,000-square-yard apron that will need to accommodate a Boeing 767 cargo plane with a roughly 200-foot wingspan could cost upwards of $4 million to construct.
The authority board approved the design work, but it wasn’t without discussion. Board member Ted Rosenberger questioned what he thought was a hefty price tag for engineering work that wasn’t put out to bid.
“It’s just a lot of money for a design,” he said.
Everett explained that the authority has five-year contracts with engineering firms, allowing them to move more quickly on projects. It takes six to nine months to find and qualify an engineering consultant that can work on FAA projects, he said. The authority works with two firms and plans on bringing on two more this year.
The estimate for the design work, which will include soil testing and permitting all on an expedited schedule, is in line with other firms, Everett told the board.
Board members on Tuesday also approved a new strategic plan that sees the authority focusing on the growing cargo freight business. If LVIA doesn’t move quickly to expand its capacity, it risks losing the business to other airports, Everett said.
“If we don’t do this, we don’t have a shot to get into the cargo business,” he said.
Cargo traffic has exploded over the last two years with the airport seeing nearly triple the freight. The amount of cargo moving through LVIA is up about 125 percent in the first quarter of 2017 compared to the same period last year. By comparison, passenger traffic has basically flatlined over the first quarters of 2016 and 2017.
And with about five cargo flights a day comes revenue from fuel and apron fees.
The authority is currently working on a plan to relieve the space crunch in its cargo hangar and shorten the round trip to where the cargo planes park. That short-term solution, much like adding the sixth apron, is designed to get the authority through its growing pains and toward a long-term plan to handle the cargo influx brought on by two Amazon distribution centers in the Lehigh Valley. FedEx is also building a massive ground hub just north of LVIA.
Everett said the design work on the new apron will be used, at least in part, when the authority looks to further expand its cargo area. Federal Aviation Administration design standards are “significant,” he said, and the authority will need to determine how many aprons soil conditions and topography will allow.
The maximum take-off weight of a cargo flight is 400,000 pounds, which means up to an 18-inch deep base just to park a 767, Everett said. The main runway base by comparison is 4 feet deep.
Some of the money for construction will come out of the authority’s Airport Investment Program, which is an annual grant from the FAA. User fees will eventually help cover the construction.
Everett said the authority’s 2017 budget projects five cargo flights a day through the end of the year, but traffic figures last year likely puts that number at six flights a day. Cargo is a roughly 24-hour operation, and the airport did see nine cargo flights one day last year, he said.
A single year of steady cargo traffic won’t pay for a single $4 million apron, but its life span is about 20 years.
“We have to look at it as an investment,” Everett said.