Chicago, Illinois-Air Freight Gateway

Chicago, Illinois-Air Freight Gateway

The Chicago Air Gateway comprises O’Hare International Airport and the Midway Airport.1 The two airports combined were the nation’s third busiest international air cargo gateway by value of shipments. They were the tenth overall gateway by value when compared with all U.S. freight gateways—airports, seaports, and land ports.

In 2003, more than 10 percent of the value of all U.S. international air cargo moved through the Chicago airports. By weight, Chicago ranks fifth among all air gateways, with 6 percent of U.S. international air freight tonnage moving through it.

Between the two Chicago area airports, most of the international merchandise trade tonnage moves through the O’Hare International Airport. In 2003, 99 percent of the weight of Chicago international air trade moved through the O’Hare airport while the Midway Airport accounted for less than 1 percent of the weight.

Chicago is a hub for air trade with Western Europe as well as Pacific-Rim countries. By tonnage, the major origin and destination countries for air cargo on nonstop international flights to and from Chicago are Germany, the United Kingdom, and Japan. However, information on the actual origin markets for imports through Chicago shows that Japan is the top market from which goods are imported followed by South Korea and Hong Kong, while for exports the top destination markets from Chicago are Japan, the United Kingdom, and Germany.2

As with other gateway airports, the goods imported from or exported to Pacific-Rim countries via Chicago are either routed through European countries or through U.S. West Coast airports like Los Angeles International Airport and San Francisco International Airport or through Anchorage International Airport in Alaska. The key air carriers transporting international merchandise trade through Chicago area airports are Lufthansa, American Airlines, and United Airlines.

In 2003, the total international merchandise trade through the Chicago area airports was valued at $54 billion. Between 1999 and 2003, this trade grew 37 percent by value of shipments; imports jumped 57 percent while exports rose by 14 percent. Also during this period, the tonnage of air freight imports through Chicago fell slightly, with imports declining about 1 percent and exports falling less than 1 percent.

The O’Hare International Airport is currently going through a major modernization program to keep pace with the increasing cargo and passenger traffic moving through it. This multibillion dollar program aims to help airport managers better manage air traffic congestion and flight delays at the airport and further improve the airport’s capacity for handling international merchandise trade.

1 Data on the value of air merchandise trade from the Census Bureau combine freight activity for Chicago’s two airports—O’Hare and Midway. BTS combines the tonnage of freight activity at the two airports to make the weight data comparable to the value data.

2 Based on Form 41 International Market Data from the Office of Airline Information, Bureau of Transportation Statistics.