Top 10 U.S. Cargo Airports
With efficient cargo facilities, abundant access to infrastructure, and reliable handling capabilities, these airports will treat your shipments with top-flight care.*
As is the case with every mode of transportation, a variety of facets influence long-term success at cargo airports—employee performance, technological advancements, risk management, and many others. But the old adage regarding success always applies: location, location, location.
According to the Airports Council International – North America, the following 10 U.S. airports were the most successful in 2015, based on total cargo volume. Most on the list offer dedicated cargo facilities, a reliable infrastructure, and some unique handling capabilities. And in terms of cargo transport, the airports’ locations are generally considered ideal. With each of these facets considered, the following airports are expected to remain among the U.S. leaders in cargo volume well into the future.
*Top 10 airports chosen based on 2015 total cargo volume
Memphis International Airport, Tennessee
For years, Memphis International Airport has been recognized as one of the world’s busiest airports. In fact, in 2015, it led all U.S. airports in one specific category: total cargo tonnage. Due to its popularity among passengers (140,000 are served each month, on average) and logistics professionals alike, the airport also has an estimated annual economic impact of $23.3 billion, and has a direct or indirect impact on 25 percent of the city’s jobs, according to the University of Memphis.
"The Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority fully understands the importance of cargo to the local, regional, and national economy, and will continue to foster our industry’s growth," says Glen Thomas, public information officer, Memphis International Airport.
- Total cargo volume in 2015: 4,290,638 tons
- Dedicated cargo facilities: With its headquarters based in Memphis, FedEx represents roughly 98 percent of the airport’s total cargo and handles more than 180,000 packages every hour at its World Hub, which is located at the airport.
Likewise, UPS has a presence at the Memphis Airport. The expeditor recently expanded its handling facility to 424,000 square feet, allowing it to sort up to 60,000 packages per hour. In addition, the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority owns and operates a nearly 1-million-square-foot common-use cargo facility at the airport.
- Special handling capabilities: Located within the World Hub, FedEx’s 83,000-square-foot Cold Chain Center maintains perishable shipments, including healthcare supplies, in a prearranged temperature range so they stay protected during flight delays.
- Infrastructure benefits: Featuring five major freight railroads, two interstate highways (I-40 and I-55), and the Mississippi River, Memphis offers a unique combination of rail, road, runway, and river that is suitable for a wide range of cargo transportation and activity.
Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Alaska
As a result of Anchorage’s population of approximately 710,000, most of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport’s (ANC) traffic is freight. In fact, about 80 percent of all goods shipped by freighter aircraft over the Pacific are transported through the airport.
Despite its location—9.5 hours from 90 percent of the industrialized world—the airport is also regularly ranked among the world’s top five airports for cargo throughput.
"Alaska enjoys special liberalized U.S. Department of Transportation cargo transfer regulations, which allow carriers to exchange cargo for increased efficiency," says John Parrott, airport manager, Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. "Each week, the airport sees about 600 wide-body freighters, and aircraft using the airport can carry an additional 100,000 to 125,000 pounds of cargo."
- Total cargo volume in 2015: 2,630,701 tons
- Dedicated cargo facilities: Although a few cargo facilities are located at the airport, ANC does not own or operate any of them. Instead, they are all privately owned by air carriers including Alaska Airlines, Northern Air Cargo, and TransNorthern Aviation. In addition, a cargo transfer facility, Alaska CargoPort, provides air cargo transfer and warehouse services.
- Special handling capabilities: Some cargo facilities also handle seafood as part of the cool supply chain. These facilities are also owned and operated by private companies, including Great Pacific Seafood.
- Infrastructure benefits: Despite Alaska’s connectivity to rail, roads, and water, one important factor must be considered: 82 percent of Alaskan communities are not located on any road system, according to Parrott. Consequently, any cargo that arrives via barge or truck is delivered to the airport, so that it can be flown to rural customers afterwards.
To counter the state’s lack of roads, the airport provides 24/7 capability for Design Group VI size aircraft that can reach 90 percent of the industrialized world.
Louisville International Airport, Kentucky
In 2014, the Louisville Regional Airport Authority invested nearly $56 million in new construction projects at each of its airports: Bowman Field and Louisville International Airport. As a result, a terminal at the Louisville International Airport is currently being renovated, while aesthetic improvements—including new carpet and interior paint—are also in the works, among various other projects.
As these renovations continue, Louisville International Airport remains one of the world’s most popular airports. For example, it accommodated 3.4 million passengers in 2015. And, due to its renowned Worldport, owned by UPS, the airport handled more than 5 billion pounds of cargo, freight, and mail in 2015.
- Total cargo volume in 2015: 2,350,656 tons
- Dedicated cargo facilities: The 5.2-million-square-foot Worldport, which opened in 2002, sorts up to 416,000 packages per hour, and services approximately 250 inbound and outbound flights each day. At the same time, UPS’s 653,000-square-foot Worldport Freight Facility, located across from Worldport, is able to process up to 1.6 million pounds of heavy freight.
- Special handling capabilities: As the world’s largest fully automated package handling facility, Worldport offers a variety of proficiencies, including IT systems that swiftly transfer Customs information, so that international shipments can be distributed as quickly as possible. It also features specially designed hub floors and docks that allow employees to move packages from one section of the facility to another through 1.2 million casters and ball transfer units.
- Infrastructure benefits: With access to interstates I-64, I-65, and I-71 and three Class I railroads—Canadian Pacific, CSX, and Norfolk Southern—as well as two public inland ports and nearly 50 private terminals on the Ohio River, Louisville is one of the ideal locations in the United States for logistics infrastructure.
Miami International Airport, Florida
Owned by the Miami-Dade County government and operated by the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, the Miami International Airport is currently the nation’s top airport for international freight. It is also the second-busiest airport in the United States for international passengers. As a result of this global focus, Miami is also one of the country’s most financially successful airports; on average, it generates $33.7 billion in business revenue each year.
"In addition to leading the United States in global freight shipments and perishable imports, we want to lead the way in transport innovation," says Emilio T. González, Miami-Dade aviation director. "In August 2016, Miami International Airport became one of the first six U.S. cargo hub airports to launch the e-AWB 360 campaign, which removes the requirement for a paper air waybill, and will pave the way toward a completely e-freight cargo industry locally."
- Total cargo volume in 2015: 2,005,175 tons
- Dedicated cargo facilities: Miami International Airport’s cargo facilities currently feature 18 warehouses, with a capacity of more than 3.4 million square feet of space.
- Special handling capabilities: Due to the launch of the e-AWB 360 campaign, the airport is replacing manual data entry with a more efficient and reliable digital system. This initiative is expected to reduce the airport’s long-term costs, while also improving its handling proficiency.
- Infrastructure benefits: With access to the Florida Turnpike and interstates including I-95 and I-75; proximity to PortMiami, one of the country’s busiest ports; and access to the Florida East Coast Railway, Miami International Airport is an ideal location for handling national and international shipments.
Los Angeles International Airport, California
As the principal international gateway on the West Coast, Los Angeles International Airport serves a local economy as large as many countries’ gross national product. Its scheduled freighter and passenger flights cover the international destinations that are served by all other western regional airports combined.
Consequently, Los Angeles is regularly listed among the United States’ top five cargo airports with regards to total tonnage. In fact, its total tonnage is equivalent to the combined tonnage of cargo that is processed by the West Coast’s next five largest airports: Oakland, Ontario, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland, according to Los Angeles World Airports.
- Total cargo volume in 2015: 1,938,624 tons
- Dedicated cargo facilities: The Los Angeles International Airport hosts more than 20 dedicated cargo facilities, featuring more than 2.1 million square feet of developed cargo operating space that is used by air carriers and third-party logistics providers. Freight forwarders use another 4 million square feet of facilities located near the airport.
- Special handling capabilities: Although the airport does not feature a centralized cold storage facility for perishables, it does provide comprehensive capabilities handled by individual airlines and ground handlers. For example, a perishable facility at one of Mercury Air Cargo’s sites is recognized as the West Coast’s largest on-airport facility of its kind.
- Infrastructure benefits: Los Angeles International Airport offers access to Southern California’s large freeway network, including north-south routes such as I-110, I-405, and SR 1, as well as east-west routes such as I-10 and I-105. Rail lines including Union Pacific and BNSF Railway also provide connectivity from Los Angeles to Canada and Mexico.
Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Illinois
Consistently recognized as one of the busiest airports in the world, Chicago O’Hare International Airport is not only a national aviation hub, it is also a global air cargo gateway, providing billions of dollars in trade to Chicago’s economy. In 2015, its total annual imports and exports were valued at $173 billion, according to WorldCity.
To ensure continued success for decades to come, the airport is currently developing a cargo facility on its Northeast Ramp; the first phase of the project opened in 2016. The airport now maintains nearly 4 million square feet of cargo facility space within its boundary, allowing it to handle dozens of jumbo freighters at once—as well as direct jumbo freighter service to countries including China, Japan, and Qatar, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.
- Total cargo volume in 2015: 1,592,826 tons
- Dedicated cargo facilities: The Chicago O’Hare International Airport features four airside cargo facilities: the 350,000-square-foot FedEx campus on the Southwest Ramp; a 300,000-square-foot facility on the South Central Ramp; an 800,000-square-foot facility, featuring seven buildings, on the Southeast Ramp; and a 650,000-square-foot facility on the Northeast Ramp, the first phase of which opened in 2016. It also houses two landside cargo facilities—the 900,000-square-foot Express Center and the 800,000-square-foot Express North.
- Special handling capabilities: The airport currently offers a fumigation chamber that streamlines customs operations for perishable cargo, and can fully accommodate Group VI B747-8F aircraft.
- Infrastructure benefits: In addition to direct access to I-90, I-190, and I-294, and proximity to I-55, I-88, I-94, and I-290, a CTA rapid transit rail station and a Metra regional rail station are also available.
John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York
Operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, under a lease with the City of New York, the John F. Kennedy International Airport is regularly recognized as one of the world’s leading international air cargo centers. The airport contributes an average of $37.3 billion in annual economic activity to the New York-New Jersey metro region.
To continue this success, the Port Authority has invested approximately $7 billion in the airport to date. It recently constructed a new cargo building in the northern area of the airport; it will measure roughly 600,000 square feet when it is completed. In addition, the JFK Airport Travel Plaza, which opened in 2013, provides fuel, food, and rest services for truckers, as well as parking—the first facility of its kind in a North American airport.
- Total cargo volume in 2015: 1,286,484 tons
- Dedicated cargo facilities: The John F. Kennedy International Airport currently maintains 20 cargo facilities.
- Special handling capabilities: Most facilities offer cold storage capabilities for a variety of commodities, including pharmaceuticals, food, and perishables. The ARK at JFK—a 78,000-square-foot animal handling facility that offers kenneling and veterinary capabilities—is set to open in early 2017. The facility will also handle exotic animals, as well as bovine, equine, and swine.
- Infrastructure benefits: Aside from its access to I-678 and proximity to interstates such as I-78 and I-95, the airport is also near one of the world’s busiest ports, the Port of New York and New Jersey. Access to a variety of railways offers connection throughout the East Coast, as well as the rest of the United States.
Indianapolis International Airport, Indiana
Located less than 20 minutes from downtown Indianapolis, the Indianapolis International Airport is one of the largest cargo centers in the United States, and is also home to the world’s second-largest distribution logistics operator. As a result of its cargo capabilities, the airport generates an average of more than $4.5 billion for the area’s economy.
"The Indianapolis International Airport is a crucial hub for the Midwest logistics sector," says Mario Rodriguez, executive director, Indianapolis Airport Authority. "In addition to the cargo capacity it provides for complex companies that conduct business outside of Indiana and worldwide, the airport is also a significant factor in drawing new business to the central Indiana region—and throughout the state."
- Total cargo volume in 2015: 1,084,857 tons
- Dedicated cargo facilities: The Indianapolis International Airport operates five dedicated cargo facilities. The world’s second-largest FedEx hub is also located at the airport.
- Special handling capabilities: Cargo facilities include refrigeration and freezer applications, as well as roughly 40,000 square feet of controlled-temperature space, which is especially beneficial for the agriscience, bioscience, and pharmaceutical industries.
- Infrastructure benefits: As the Crossroads of America, Indianapolis offers access to five interstates—I-65, I-69, I-70, I-74, and I-465—and five major railroads. The airport is located within a 36-hour drive from nearly 75 percent of all U.S.-based businesses.
Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, Kentucky
As the busiest airport in Kentucky, and the second-busiest serving a metro area in Ohio, the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is consistently ranked not only among the United States’ most successful cargo airports, but also among the world’s most successful. It is also considered the fastest-growing cargo airport in North America, as cargo volume has risen by more than 50 percent since 2011, according to cvgairport.com.
- Total cargo volume in 2015: 729,309 tons
- Dedicated cargo facilities: The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport currently has four dedicated cargo facilities, and is home to the DHL Express Americas Hub—CVG, which processes roughly 50 million international shipments each year. The airport has also selected Aeroterm to build a new facility with direct ramp access; the facility is projected to include 132,000 square feet of space.
- Infrastructure benefits: With access to interstates such as I-71, I-75, I-74, and I-275, as well as several major railroad systems, including CSX and Norfolk Southern, the Cincinnati and northern Kentucky area is a vital gateway for logistics professionals, regardless of the direction they are traveling. In addition, the ports of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky offer more than 200 miles of commercially navigable waterways.
Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey
Since its opening in 1928, Newark Liberty International Airport has been a vital transportation hub for the New York-New Jersey metro area. After all, it is only 14 miles away from Manhattan. It is operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and is owned by the city of Newark.
In addition, Newark has a rich history as the United States’ oldest airfield, as well as its first commercial airline terminal, which was dedicated by Amelia Earhart in 1935. Today, the airport’s present and future remains as rich as its past, as it is not only one of the world’s busiest airports, but also one of its most successful—especially in terms of cargo volume.
- Total cargo volume in 2015: 683,760 tons
- Dedicated cargo facilities: Newark Airport currently offers eight dedicated cargo facilities.
- Special handling capabilities: Most of the cargo facilities provide cold storage capabilities for a variety of products, including, but not limited to, food, perishables, and pharmaceuticals.
- Infrastructure benefits: Located at the crossroads of the New Jersey Turnpike and I-78, each of which are used to transport all types of cargo, Newark Airport is in an ideal setting. It is also conveniently located near the Port of New York and New Jersey, regularly regarded as one of the world’s busiest ports.