In a feat of innovation, strength and flexibility, the team at Rickenbacker International Airport recently welcomed its 500th passenger-freighter.
Rickenbacker is one of the few non-passenger hub airports to accommodate these unique cargo-only flights, which began as a solution to decreased travel and increased air freight demand during the pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic, passenger aircraft served as a critical component of the air freight system, carrying several tons of cargo in addition to passenger baggage. When global air travel slowed, enterprising airlines began operating passenger-freighters—passenger aircraft with cargo loaded into seats, or into the cabins with seats removed.
“This innovative solution highlights the adaptability and ingenuity of the entire air cargo community, including our airline and freight forwarding partners, US Customs and Border Protection, and our amazing aircraft handling team at Rickenbacker,” said Joseph R. Nardone, President & CEO for the Columbus Regional Airport Authority. “Today’s milestone demonstrates the value of working with one of the world’s only cargo-focused airports. Not every airport can pull off what we’ve accomplished.”
Rickenbacker’s first passenger-freighter arrived May 28, 2020 from Emirates SkyCargo. The airport now sees regular passenger-freighters from Emirates, Etihad Airways, Korean Airlines, Philippine Airlines and Qatar Airways. As disruption to the global supply chain continues, the airport expects this group of premier global air carriers to continue growing.
“Emirates would like to extend its heartiest congratulations to Rickenbacker Airport on its passenger-freighter milestone and we are delighted to have operated both the first and the 500th passenger-freighter flights to the airport,” said Hiran Perera, Emirates Senior Vice President, Cargo Planning & Freighters. “The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of air cargo connectivity in delivering essential goods such as PPE rapidly to communities and Rickenbacker Airport has been a strategic partner for Emirates SkyCargo in North America. We are grateful to the entire team at LCK who have been extremely responsive and supportive of our requests over the last year.”
The increase in these types of flights has also required increased attention from US Customs and Border Protection partners.
“CBP appreciates the strong partnership that we have with the Columbus Regional Airport Authority,” said Theodor W. Thomas, Port Director for CBP. “I am extremely proud of the dedication and hard work of all of our local CBP Officers who have continued to process both International Flight Crew Members and cargo throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Their efforts have ensured that critical PPE has been made available to first responders and medical personnel throughout the region.”
It’s estimated that more than one million boxes of consumer goods and manufacturing components have arrived at Rickenbacker aboard the 500 passenger-freighters before continuing their journey elsewhere. Rickenbacker is one of the world’s only cargo-focused airports, moving airfreight between planes and trucks faster than any other global gateway.