Despite pandemic, traffic increases at some airports in Illinois

(The Center Square) – Operations at Rockford’s airport are staying busy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zach Oakley, deputy director of operations for the Chicago Rockford Intentional Airport, said numbers were up 30 percent compared to the same time period last year.

“UPS and Amazon are both seeing increased volumes related to the COVID situation,” Oakley said. “Then with the need to move medical supplies, we’re seeing some more charters as well as some charters for some GM model parts to keep assembly lines going.”

The airport serves as a major hub for both Amazon and UPS. That means job opportunities for the region, even in this unstable economic market.

“Locally it’s helping us,” Oakley said. “It’s helping stabilize the local economy and providing opportunities for workers who may need to look at a career shift or looking for decently temporary employment while their situation shakes itself out.”

The airport also is set to receive more than $18 million from the federal CARES Act passed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials are still determining the best way to use those funds.

“Cargo is up, which is great, but we have other parts of our business that have been seriously affected,” Oakley said. “Passenger [service] does provide quite a bit of revenue to the airport and that’s just completely dried up. And then just the cost to operate going forward.”

The airport also is working to accommodate massive FEMA jets, each carrying more than 150,000 pounds of medical supplies to be distributed across the region.

“We have the flexibility of some areas on the airport we can operate some overflow traffic on,” Oakley said. “When we had the FEMA charters, and then some charters related to some auto part movements, that was our remote parking areas that we were able to use and not affect our normal cargo operations.”

More than 2.3 billion pounds of cargo moved through the Rockford airport last year and it’s on pace to handle around 2.8 billion pounds this year. According to the most recent rankings, based on 2018 numbers, the facility ranked as the 19th-busiest cargo airport in the nation.

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