News Article | 4/22/2011

Alliance air cargo traffic up 24% from 2009

Freight traffic is picking up at the Alliance Global Logistics Hub in North Fort Worth — a positive sign for the North Texas economy — and developers of the hub’s industrial airport are working to enhance its economic power by extending the runway.

Cargo traffic at Fort Worth Alliance Airport was about 110,400 metric tons last year, up 24 percent from 2009, but still not back to pre-recession levels. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp.’s lifts — the number of units loaded or unloaded from trains — at its Alliance Intermodal Facility grew 5 percent last year to about 493,000, also below pre-recession levels.

“When you look back over the course of the cycles that we’ve been through, we’ve found that both FedEx and the railroads, as you would expect, are good leading indicators for us, because that indicates inventory replenishment,” said Mike Berry, president of Hillwood Properties, the developer of AllianceTexas.

Vann Cunningham, assistant vice president of economic development for Fort Worth-based BNSF, said the increase in rail freight at Alliance translates into more related economic activity, such as warehouse distribution and manufacturing. BNSF’s Alliance station has a balanced inflow and outflow of cargo, he said.

“The fact that it’s balanced and both are growing is kind of an early indicator that we have a pretty healthy economy and an improving economy in North Texas,” Cunningham said.

Taking off
To expand Alliance’s draw as a logistics hub, Hillwood Properties and the City of Fort Worth, which owns the industrial airport, are spearheading the extension of the airport’s runway from 9,600 feet to 11,000 feet in length.

Tim Ward, president of Alliance air and aviation services, said the 15-year, $232 million project is scheduled to be complete by late 2014 or early 2015.

The airport can already accommodate any size plane, but the extension will enable jets like those operated by FedEx Corp. to take off with fully loaded, fully fueled planes in the heat of the summer, when the air is too thin to support full planes.

Memphis, Tenn.-based FedEx (NYSE: FDX) has had a hub at Alliance since 1997 and accounts for about 95 percent of the airport’s freight activity.

“Today, in the summer months when it’s extremely warm, they have to compromise their payload to Anchorage, and they even have to compromise their payload to Fort Lauderdale, because of the heat and the existing runway length,” Ward said.

Anchorage is an important hub for FedEx, because it’s the company’s connection to Asia and other international markets.

Complicating the extension were the locations of Farm to Market Road 156 and the mainline of the BNSF railroad, both of which are in the path of the planned runway. The road has already been relocated, Ward said. Project developers have begun land acquisition for the new railroad line and expect to finish by October, when construction will begin.

Jacobs Engineering is the program manager for the project. Ward said $130 million in work has yet to be bid out, including the railroad relocation and runway construction.