Chicago, Illinois-Air Freight Gateway

Chicago, Illinois-Air Freight Gateway

The Chicago Air Gateway comprises O'Hare International Airport and Midway Airport. The two airports combined were the nation's second busiest international air cargo gateway by value of shipments in 2008. The Chicago Air Gateway ranked seventh by value when compared with all U.S. air, land, and sea freight gateways.

In 2008, 12 percent of the value of all U.S. international air cargo moved through the Chicago airports (table 1). The total international merchandise trade through the Chicago airports was valued at $97 billion, a 12 percent increase from $87 billion in 2007. Imports jumped 16 percent, and exports rose 7 percent (USDOC CB 2009b). By weight, Chicago ranked fifth among all air gateways, handling 7 percent of U.S. international air freight tonnage (table 1). It handled more than 625,000 tons of international air cargo in 2008, down 8 percent from 2007 (table 2).

Most of the Chicago Air Gateway's international merchandise trade tonnage moves through O'Hare International Airport. In 2008, it handled 99 percent of the weight of Chicago international air trade, while Midway Airport accounted for less than 1 percent of the weight (USDOT RITA BTS OAI 2009).

Chicago is a hub for air trade with European and Pacific Rim countries. By tonnage, the major origin and destination countries for air cargo on nonstop international flights to and from Chicago in 2008 were Germany, the United Kingdom, and Japan (table 3). Data on the actual origin markets for imports through Chicago shows that Japan was the top market from which goods were imported, followed by South Korea and Germany. For exports, the top destination markets from Chicago were Japan, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Goods imported from or exported to Pacific Rim countries via Chicago are either routed through European countries; through U.S. West Coast airports, such as Los Angeles International Airport and San Francisco International Airport; or through Anchorage International Airport in Alaska.

In 2008, the key air carriers transporting international merchandise trade through Chicago airports were American Airlines, United Airlines, and Lufthansa (table 5).

O'Hare International Airport is undertaking a major modernization program to keep pace with the increasing cargo and passenger traffic it processes. This multibillion dollar program aims to reduce air traffic congestion and improve the airport's capacity for handling international merchandise trade. The modernization program has received approval and federal funding, and construction is under way.

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

2 The 2007 data used in this comparison are not presented in table 1. The data are available online in the gateways database at

3 Ranking of air gateways by weight is available in table 9 of this report's overview section.

4 This information is based on Form 41 International Market Data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Office of Airline Information. Origin-destination airport-pair data by value are not available from the merchandise trade data. See box 2, page 15, for further discussion of the segment and market data.

5 Information is available at