The Rickenbacker Initiative

Rickenbacker Airport becomes America's multimodal inland port


COLUMBUS, OH — Situated in the Ohio Valley, Rickenbacker International Airport (LCK) is within a ten-hour truck drive to more than 50 percent of the U.S. and Canadian population and some 61 percent of the U.S. manufacturing capacity.

The airport’s location has made it an attractive place to do business for many importers, exporters, and logistics providers. Key companies with established warehouses and distribution centers in the area include Abercrombie & Fitch, Bath & Body Works, Eddie Bauer, Gap, Limited Brands, Rolls-Royce, Target, Whirlpool, and Xerox, just to name a few.

Area logistics providers include Atlas Air, DHL, FedEx, Forward Air Corporation, and UPS.

The airport is also located adjacent to two major national rail lines that ship goods from the East Coast to the Midwest, where they are then distributed throughout middle-America.

Already a cargo-dedicated airport, the idea is to position Rickenbacker as a mutlimodal logistics hub by collaboriating with its base of air, road, and rail transport companies — supported by a mix of freight forwarders, consolidators, Customs brokers, and third-party logistics providers — and transforming the airport into an international logistics center aimed at enhancing economic growth for the region. Along the way, the airport will become something it has never been — self-sustaining.

Remarks Elaine Roberts, Columbus Regional Airport Authority president and CEO, “The projection is that we will have more than 100 million square feet of distribution space, coupled with our location, a rail-truck intermodal terminal, the cargo airport … we will have a true inland port that will help spin off more and more of this growth and development.”

Seizing an opportunity

When Roberts came here in 2000, the Columbus Airport Authority did not have responsibility for operating LCK. Within six months of her arrival, the suggestion was made to look at a merger study for the two port authorities; Rickenbacker was operated by its own airport authority.

“We took over Rickenbacker in 2003,” relates Roberts. “The challenge with the authority merger for anybody operating Rickenbacker was, how do you make it self-sufficient?” The airport had been heavily subsidized by the county, says Roberts.

The county was losing some $5 million per year on LCK. When the merger study was done, the conclusion was that without merging, LCK would cost the county some $56 million for ten more years. With the merger, that loss would be cut down to about $43 million, with the assumption that there will be a strategy put in place to eliminate any further loss.

“The county pays us $4.3 million per year … we’ve paid off all of the debt and lowered the operating deficit to about $250,000 per year,” comments Roberts. “The biggest challenge in the future will continue to be capital ... you’ve got old military facilities and two huge runways.

“Rickenbacker will never break even on just cargo activity because FedEx, UPS, DHL … those guys all have their own hubs, and they are shrinking their hub networks. So we are more of a regional spoke into those major hubs; FedEx is our biggest at some 75 percent of our cargo activity.”

Developing a strategy

Benefits of Rickenbacker include more than 200,000 square feet of cargo facility space, 130 acres of uncongested cargo ramp, two parallel 12,000-foot runways, onsite U.S. CBP, and the regional hubs of FedEx Air, FedEx Ground, and UPS. Major rail providers, Norfolk Southern and CSX, connect to all major East and West Coast ports. LCK is also home to the national road feeder hubs of major trucking companies such as CEVA Ground, Town Air Frieght, and Team Worldwide.

“The first thing we had to do after the merger was figure out how we were going to turn this thing around,” relates Roberts.

“Our best approach for making Rickenbacker self-sufficient is to do some non-traditional development ... so we partnered with the railroad to build a rail-truck intermodal terminal on airport property — that along with the runways and highway access is going to make this a really attractive place for development.

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