Chicago/Rockford Int'l Airport Wooing Additional Airlines

It takes about four hours for Polar Air Cargo to land, taxi and unload a plane at Chicago O'Hare International Airport.

Officials at Chicago/Rockford International Airport claim it would take half that time here.

They're recruiting one of O'Hare's biggest cargo carriers, hoping to get it to bring its 23 flights a week and 150 jobs here.

"We're trying to show them, not just Polar Air but other people, it's a more convenient place," said Derek Martin, deputy director of the Rockford airport.

He said the company is considering Rockford's offer, but he doesn't know when it will respond. Polar Air Cargo would be Rockford's second-biggest operator - UPS flies 30 planes a week.

Polar Air Cargo officials didn't return calls seeking comment.

The Polar Web site said the company connects major cargo markets in the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Far East through frequent Boeing 747 freighter service. Polar and its sister company, Atlas Air Inc., are wholly owned subsidiaries of Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings Inc.

Rockford officials also met with JetBlue Airways last month, a week before the discount carrier announced flights to and from O'Hare starting next year. Because of the Chicago announcement, it's less likely JetBlue will come here anytime soon.

"While we don't have any specific plans for Rockford at this time ... we never want to say never," said Bryan Baldwin, JetBlue spokesman. "We do talk to a lot of different airports just to become familiar with the region."

Because of Federal Aviation Administration restrictions at O'Hare, JetBlue could only get up to seven flights daily each way. The airline flies more times a day out of New York, Boston and Long Beach, Calif.

"If we aren't able to grow as much as we maybe would like to (at O'Hare) ... the next-best option might be to look at other airports in the region," Baldwin said.

Rockford has space for expansion. Next to the UPS hub, there are 53 acres of ramp access and 30 acres of building space. In the midfield, there's much more available.

Either space would be perfect for Polar Air Cargo, Martin said.

"They're the biggest cargo carrier at O'Hare that doesn't do small packages," Martin said. "FedEx might be bigger but that has to do with just-in-time."

The Air Cargo World trade publication this summer named the airport the 19th fastest-growing airport in the world for cargo and the fourth fastest-growing air cargo airport in the United States.

But Martin doesn't look at it as a chance to hurt O'Hare, just a chance to help Rockford. And the cargo companies, he adds