MidAmerica St. Louis Airport's Next Step is to Add Cargo

There's a sense of anticipation at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport these days.

Passengers are embracing vacation-friendly flights, federal representatives are pushing for easier foreign trade, and a $7 million cargo terminal built to lure business is only days away from completion.

"We have to continually connect the dots, and that's what we're trying to do," Airport Director Tim Cantwell said. "The priorities have been, and always will be, joint use (with Scott Air Force Base), international cargo and then national passenger service."

The airport has already tasted success on two of these fronts. Its presence arguably helped keep Scott Air Force Base off the federal government's "to-be-closed" list. Separate passenger airlines are offering flights to Florida and Las Vegas.

Airport officials are now looking to cargo operations for their next success story to tell.

"This is why this airport was built, to get the opportunity for cargo potential," said Richard Sauget, chairman of the St. Clair County Public Building Commission that oversees airport operations. "This region has been starved as far as air cargo."

It's what most MidAmerica critics have been arguing for years.

"They need cargo traffic over there," said Juli Niemann, an analyst with RT Capital Equities in St. Louis. "It is the perfect place made in heaven for cargo traffic. It makes sense for the region to do this sort of thing."

Long-range objectives for the airport include a new interchange along Interstate 64 to handle additional truck traffic, an extension of Choctaw Road to Illinois 158 and 900 acres of industrial support services and transportation infrastructure.

Port-of-entry status is just the first step to making that possible. The Senate already approved a bill that would grant MidAmerica port-of-entry status, but it has yet to be approved by the House of Representatives or signed by President Bush.

The status brings with it the ability to accept goods, people and aircraft from around the country.

"I think it's fairly safe to say I'm pleased," said Jim Williams, president of MidAmerica Land Use and Development. "Port of entry is a significant piece to the development of air cargo."

MidAmerica Land Use and Development is expected to start utilizing half the space at the new cargo terminal later this year. "That airport will hold the biggest of the biggest planes that don't want to go to O'Hare or Lambert," Williams said. "It's quite a thing, what's going on over there."

Said Cantwell: "It's a long road map, but at least we're staying on the road."