Hamiltons's Cargo Express
Private firm, Tradeport, leads effort to link airport to regional expansion
By By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
MOUNT HOPE, ONT — Much as Chicago has Midway Airport and Dallas has Love Field, Toronto — one of the largest metro areas in North America — now has Hamilton International Airport. It has quickly become the major freight airport in Canada, and is experiencing rapid passenger growth with the successful emergence of Westjet, a discount carrier. The turnaround of a once quiet, provincial airport is directly linked to a decision to turn the facility into private hands in the early ’90s.
Tony F. Battaglia is president and CEO
of TradePort International Corporation, a consortium of companies created
to respond to a request for proposals for privatizing the airport, which
TradePort subsequently won. It took over operation and ownership of the
airport in 1996 under a 45-year lease agreement.
Explains Battaglia, "This airport was always considered a loser, something that was there. There was no community support, and it didn’t register on anybody’s radar screen as a potential economic development tool. But since the privatization and repositioning of the airport, we’ve done an awareness campaign.
Tony Battaglia, CEO; Richard Webb, managing director; and Paul Tice, VP-Finance. Webb is employed by YVR Airport Services, a TradePort partner and airport management firm.
"Today, the city council views the
airport as the region’s number one economic tool for the future of
the community. We’ve gone from nowhere on the radar screen to the
number one most important community asset.
"We’re sort of reminding everybody that the reason Hamilton became an industrial center in the first place, why the steel mills first located here, was because of its geographic location. Today, we’re seeing that come around full circle, that the tremendous advantage this community has is as a transportation and distribution hub, especially in the world of e-commerce.
"Everybody’s fighting to be the next Silicon Valley; we want to be the e-fulfillment center."
Repositioning, recalls Battaglia, focused on redirecting the airport from one with minimal passenger service (U.S. Airways to Pittsburgh, recently terminated) to one that focused on specialty cargo. "The fact that we have no operating restrictions here, we operate 24 hours a day, and given our proximity to Toronto, which does have operating restrictions at night, we have a strategic advantage," he explains. "It’s something that was never fully exploited or understood."
Another strategic advantage, says Battaglia, is that Hamilton has a potential catchment area for cargo and passengers that is larger than that of New York City. "If you draw a circle around Hamilton encompassing a one-day truck drive, you can reach anywhere from Montreal to New York to Chicago," he explains. "We have 132 million consumers within that circle; New York has only 120 million. And, from a transportation point of view, once it’s on the ground we’re in a more convenient location. We’re in the middle of New York and Chicago.
"That’s why the focus is on cargo, in terms of economic development for the community. Cargo will create the economic development. The passenger development will certainly make the airport grow, and from a revenue point of view may outstrip the cargo business."
One other advantage Hamilton has, says Battaglia, is the value of the Canadian dollar versus the U.S. dollar. People moving freight can save money by shipping via Hamilton International and then trucking to the States, he says. "That’s a tremendous savings for many of the companies," he says.
Toward the goal of integrated services, the federal government is currently funding construction of a spur to the airport off the main highway system that connects Hamilton to entries to the U.S. Construction is set for completion in 2003.
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