On Sunday night, it finally landed: the first ever international cargo shipment into MidAmerica Airport.
The arriving DC-10 was full of giant pallets, each stacked with 2,200 pounds of seed corn from Chile.
The flight was two years in the making. That is the time since the long-struggling St. Clair County airport finished its $7 million cargo terminal and decided to focus on the growing air freight business, rather than its foundering passenger service.
Finally, at about 8:50 p.m. Sunday, the first foreign flight arrived.
The DC-10 was inspected by customs officials, off-loaded by the ground crew and sent back to Panama for another load of seed corn, grown in Chile and brought north in a hurry for the spring planting season.
The second flight landed Monday, just before 1 p.m. Seven more trips are scheduled before the week is out. The seed corn is destined for Monsanto Co. facilities around the Midwest, where it will be meted out to farmers.
It is a one-time deal, and no additional international flights are scheduled, yet. But MidAmerica Airport Director Tim Cantwell says he hopes the business will put MidAmerica on the radar screens of other cargo clients, with the goal of winning regularly scheduled service.
Until this week, the county-owned airport's gleaming cargo facility has sat mostly empty, host to just a handful of domestic freight runs. But it could be a vital piece of the region's economy, said St. Clair County Chairman Mark Kern.
Still, takeoff may prove tough, said Ned Laird, managing director of Air Cargo Management Group, a Seattle-based aviation consulting firm.
Lots of smaller airports are trying to break into the cargo business, and MidAmerica isn't close enough to any major markets other than St. Louis.
But MidAmerica has good transportation links and low costs, Laird said. It could make air cargo work yet.
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