Rockford, Illinois News

Rockford officials dismiss pleas for new airport in south suburbs

ROCKFORD – Rockford officials are dismissing pleas by leaders in Chicago’s south suburbs for a new airport anchored by Amazon traffic.

At a recent event to welcome two new Amazon fulfillment centers to the south suburbs, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Illinois, renewed calls to build a long-delayed facility in Peotone, suggesting the e-commerce giant could create a new hub there.

“With so many Amazon facilities emerging in the Chicago metro area I am certain that we’re going to need a more accessible airport,” Kelly said.

The state has spent millions of dollars acquiring land around Peotone since 2002 and has committed $205 million for a new interchange along Interstate 57, near the proposed site.

“There are people at Amazon who certainly will be an important part of the decision making about whether companies like Amazon will want to move their cargo operations to an airport like Peotone,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said.

But Zack Oakley, deputy director of operations and planning with the Chicago-Rockford International Airport, said Amazon already has a home in the region at RFD.

“We just opened up their expansion of their building in July of last year,” Oakley said. “Now they’re operating with eight parking positions in a roughly 200,000-square-foot building. We’re staying in front of anything that they need.”

Amazon traffic at Rockford’s airport has increased from one flight to twelve flights per day over the past four years, with the company’s footprint growing from 30,000-square-feet to around six times that size.

“I understand the request (for Peotone),” Oakley said. “I don’t think it’s needed. I think we are more than able to handle any growth or need in the Midwest for Amazon. When they call, we definitely jump and make sure we’re accommodating them. We are very cognizant of their needs.”

Amazon has been a key driver in lifting the Chicago-Rockford International Airport into the top twenty cargo facilities in the country. Oakley said they have the ability to meet whatever expansion plans Amazon might have in the present, without the uncertainly of the south suburban airport plans.

“Peotone, they always talk about it like it’s out there in the short term,” Oakley said. “Realistically, there’s nothing approved for that. To see a viable airport down in the south suburbs would take 15-to-20 years. It’s not like it’s a turnkey, ready-to-go type project.”

The Rockford airport recently received $10 million in state and federal grants to add additional jet parking spaces, for use by Amazon and others.

“Our growth over the last three-to-five years has been pretty impressive,” Oakley said. “And then the wintertime is where we see a huge need for additional parking and having these additional spaces available to our users ahead of ahead of that Christmas rush is vital.”

Following impressive growth over the last few years, Oakley said cargo traffic at the Rockford airport is up an additional 25 percent thus far in 2020.

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