Business

Eastern Iowa Airport sees record passengers, massive growth in cargo

Passengers wait in line to board United flight 1769 to Denver, Col. at the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Passengers wait in line to board United flight 1769 to Denver, Col. at the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Another month, another ridership record for the Eastern Iowa Airport.

But while nearly 107,000 boarding passengers this July — up 3.2 percent from the previous record set July 2014 — marks the airport’s sixth consecutive record-breaking month, the Cedar Rapids airport has been quietly taking hold of a larger share of the state’s air cargo market.

In the first six months of this year, the airport has seen a more than 20 percent increase in cargo arriving at the airport, compared to the same span in 2017, Airport Director Marty Lenss said.

The airport’s geography makes it incredibly attractive to cargo carriers seeking to move a growing market of e-commerce goods, while getting products to consumers as quickly as possible, Lenss said.

Upon arrival at the airport, freight can quickly be transported by truck to the consumer thanks in large part to the nearby Interstate 80 and Interstate 380.

“We can reach more households out of our marketplace than our neighbors,” Lenss said. “It certainly gives us as a region a competitive advantage and makes us more attractive to that segment of the economy.”

From 2008 to 2017, the airport’s share of cargo carrier landed weight — the measurement of cargo coming to the airport — increased from 29 percent to 44 percent, according to data.

In the same span, the Des Moines International Airport saw its share of state cargo traffic drop from 71 percent to 56 percent.

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“If you look at the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City region, we are able to reach 11 million more people within a one day drive time than you can from the I-80-I-35 intersection,” Lenss said.

And those numbers are looking even better so far this year, Lenss said, noting that the airport had climbed to nearly 50 percent of the state’s air cargo volume as of July.

For passengers, the Cedar Rapids airport’s share of the state’s overall boarding numbers has remained relatively consistent over the past decade.

John McGlothlen / The Gazette

In 2017, the airport handled 29.3 percent of the state’s passengers, compared to 32 percent in 2008.

In the same span, the Des Moines airport’s share of in-state passengers increased from 59 percent in 2008 to 64 percent last year.

All told, Eastern Iowa Airport saw record boarding numbers last year, with 1.14 million total passengers — up from 1.13 million in 2014.

Facing growth in ridership, paired with airlines upgauging to larger planes, the airport is in the third of four phases to update the facility’s terminal.

The modernization project — Phase 3 is estimated at about $31 million — will add 54,000 square feet to the terminal, build two new jet bridges, expand concessions and hold rooms, and add an outdoor patio.

The project also includes the installation of about 740 solar panels on the terminal roof.

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Growth has been so prominent, Lenss said the fourth and final phase of the project will have to go under further review, as traffic projections from 2014 already are out of date.

“We’re seeing the growth outpace planning efforts we did just four years ago,” Lenss said.

In addition to terminal upgrades, Lenss said growth in freight traffic and cargo plane size also spurs the need for upgrades to the airport’s freight facilities.

One mounting issue is that increased plane sizes — in both freight and passenger airlines — leads to congestion.

“What we’ve got (is) what I would describe as kind of an elbow-room issue on the apron,” Lenss said.

While a formal plan still is coming together, Lenss said it’s possible the airport will relocate its cargo facilities further west to create room for future growth in both freight and passenger areas.

“By separating those dissimilar operations, it really gives us that long-term potential to grow the airport,” Lenss said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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