The Chicago Rockford International Airport is now among the top twenty cargo airports in the country.
New data released by the Federal Aviation Administration puts Rockford in 19th place, with more than 2 billion pounds of cargo moving through in 2018.
"Breaking the top 20, that's a great thing. It's been a long time," said Zach Oakley, deputy director of operations for the airport. "To take a look at that list and see where we're at compared to other airports ... you're looking at airports that are large hubs in major metro areas and then you have Rockford, Illinois, just stuck right in between them all. It's great to see."
The airport has climbed 12 spots in just two years, with growth driven by Amazon and UPS expanding operations at RFD. The Rockford airport is home to the second-largest UPS hub in North America.
"Amazon is an e-commerce giant and UPS also helps with that," Oakley said. "It's just the way people are shopping these days and we don't expect it to slow down."
Cargo traffic increased by 55 percent year-over-year at Rockford. Oakley says continued growth is expected, but it will be tough be maintain that pace.
"To do another 50 percent growth, you're talking about adding another one billion pounds of weight," Oakley said. "We don't expect to do that in the current year, but we'd still see a significant amount of growth in the 10 to 30-percent [increase] range."
Rockford's rise comes at the same time cargo activity dropped by 35 percent at Chicago's O'Hare airport. Oakley doesn't believe the two are necessarily related.
"Being e-commerce, we're a little bit different from that," Oakley said. "We have some heavy freight and big cargo [like O'Hare], but we are much more of the express/integrator/e-commerce type of cargo shipper."
Thanks to new service at the facility and expansion projects, the airport created almost 1,000 new jobs in the past year. They expect the same number to be added by the end of 2020.
"We're excited and we can't wait to see what this year's peak looks like with UPS and the new cargo facility coming fully online," Oakley said. "It'll be exciting to see what those numbers look like."