My View: Rockford Airport Team Creates Exciting Opportunities
September 16, 2016
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  • This year has been a milestone year for the Chicago Rockford International Airport. This has been an exciting week, month, summer and year for RFD.

    The entire RFD team is justifiably proud and excited about the big and positive changes to the airport and the community.

    The airport team is continuing to aggressively pursue cargo operations and passenger services, which will in turn allow continuing and greater Federal Aviation Administration interest and funding for infrastructure improvement projects.

    This month, the airport handed over possession of two new MRO hangars on the airport to AAR Corp., the largest MRO operator in North America. The facility is complete and has received a Certificate of Occupancy from the city of Rockford.

    AAR is currently moving its equipment into the building, going through an FAA certification process and eagerly awaiting news of the arrival of the first customer aircraft, which RFD anticipates to be happening very soon.

    Another major project of which we are all very proud, often overlooked due to the size of the MRO project, is the new $20 million main terminal expansion and rehab. This new and remodeled facility will continue to add to the very positive customer experience when traveling to and from our airport. This type of infrastructure construction would not have been possible without the support of Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, Sen. Dick Durbin and the FAA.

    Just this month, RFD began a new relationship with ATSG, Inc. ATSG and its subsidiaries have chosen RFD over Chicago O’Hare and Milwaukee Mitchell airports for its Midwestern base of operations. ABX Air, a subsidiary of ATSG, Inc. and an international air freighter based in Wilmington, Ohio, will manage the cargo operation. ABX will support daily cargo flights — the first flight arrived Sept. 9 — to the airport that could expand to five flights per day by December.

    Pinnacle Logistics, which is now located on airport property, is the ground handling agent for these flights, and it has already hired 64 people and is in the process of hiring an additional 34 before the end of the month. The jobs include forklift operators and freight handlers with pay ranging from $11 an hour to $16 an hour for non-supervisory staff.

    RFD is the nation’s 25th busiest airport in cargo volume, and its rank as a major cargo airport is expected to rise as the result of this new business.

    The second wave of funding from the FAA was secured and announced Monday by Sen. Durbin and Rep. Bustos. RFD will receive more than $6 million in federal funding for infrastructure improvements and upgrades for phase two of its terminal building expansion.

    This expansion will allow the airport to meet increasing passenger demands. The funds are part of an overall $20 million grant from the FAA. The airport continues its strong relationship with the FAA and will be pursuing further grants for additional ramp space in the near future.

    There remains a balance of grant funds from Springfield and Washington to support MRO operations at RFD. While RFD continues to communicate with Springfield and Washington, it is likely those funds will not be released until there is a budget agreement in Springfield.

    Thanks to the support of local banks — including Alpine Bank, Rockford Bank & Trust, Blackhawk Bank, Northwest Bank and Byron Bank — that have provided GAP funds, the grant fund delays have not slowed RFD’s progress and momentum.

    This has been an amazing year of wins for RFD, and we look forward to making even more exciting announcements in the coming months. The sky really is the limit for RFD, and its impact on the regional economy, job opportunities and quality of life for our residents is significant. I am proud to be a member of this organization, and ask you to join my fellow airport commissioners and me in noting this year as another important milestone for RFD and the Greater Rockford community.

    Paul R. Cicero is chairman of the Rockford Airport Authority Board of Commissioners.