Reporter - Jacksonville Business Journal
September 23, 2011
Does investing in an air cargo facility at Cecil Airport make sense for Jacksonville? That’s the question members of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority are asking as they plan to study the issue.
The JAA is attempting to hire a consultant to study the feasibility of a facility at Cecil Airport, said Bob Simpson, chief operating officer of JAA. If the study comes back favorably and the plan moves forward, the next question becomes where the funding comes from. Developing a dedicated air cargo hub will mean investing in the facility itself, warehousing, office space and parking, not to mention business development.
JAA executives have toyed with this idea before.
Simpson said former JAA CEO John Clark discussed the possibility with companies seven or eight years ago and many of the authority’s long-term plans mention it, including last year’s development plan.
The authority solicited proposals from consultants earlier this year, but the responses weren’t focused enough, Simpson said. New requests for proposals are expected to go out again in October.
The study could cost between $200,000 and $500,000, judging by the price range of the earlier submissions.
David Harris, editor of the Cargo Facts newsletter, said he already knows the answer to JAA’s question and it’s no. It doesn’t make sense for Jacksonville to construct an air cargo hub because there’s not enough demand for cargo there.
A lot of airports have this idea, Harris said. They see how much money places like Miami are making and it makes them think.
Miami was the fourth busiest air cargo airport in North America, Airports Council International reported for 2010. While Jacksonville can boast three highways, a deepwater port and air and rail connectivity, Miami has that and a big cargo facility, Harris said.
“Who’s going to fly to Jacksonville?” he said.
Authority CEO Steve Grossman said he doesn’t disagree with Harris’ assessment. The plan would be to steal business from Miami and Atlanta, but no one’s figured out how to do that successfully.
“I’m just not sure it’s worth the investment,” Grossman said.
If the authority moved ahead with investing in heavy air cargo facilities, it could be located on the east side of Cecil Airport, where the authority is planning a new taxiway and road, or in several locations on the 8,000 acres of JIA, Simpson said.
JIA already handles integrated air cargo, or cargo handled by only one supply-chain operator, such as FedEx Corp. The distribution center under consideration would handle heavy cargo such as generators or large computer parts. Depending on how big or small JAA wants to go, the whole project could cost as little as $5 million to $10 million, Simpson said.