FILE Chicago Rockford Airport

The Chicago Rockford Airport host the the annual Rockford Airfest in this 2012 file photo.

Rockford’s airport has announced record-setting numbers for both passenger and cargo traffic in 2019.

Officials said nearly 250,000 passengers moved through the Chicago Rockford International Airport last year, while cargo handled increased to 2.3 billion pounds.

“In 2017 and 2018 we experienced greater than 50 percent growth year-over-year,” said Zach Oakley, deputy director of operations for the airport. “And then in 2019, we had right around 11 percent growth in cargo, which is still significant, especially considering that the air cargo industry in general throughout the country was down.”

Cargo traffic at the airport has exploded in recent years, with more than triple the amount from just five years ago.

“We're seeing more operations with larger aircraft on the UPS side,” Oakley said. “Then with Amazon … with the expansion of the building and also the ramp expansion, and also going from three parking positions to eight parking positions, it has allowed them to keep rolling.”

Passenger traffic at Chicago Rockford International Airport is handled by two airlines, Allegiant and Apple Vacations. Allegiant added two new destinations in 2019, with flights to Destin, Florida, and Sarasota, Florida. Officials also cited added capacity on existing destinations, most notably Mesa, Arizona.

“People show up from as far as Des Moines or even up toward Minneapolis for our Apple Vacation stuff because you can get a direct flight from Rockford down to the Caribbean,” Oakley said. “Out of Des Moines, your best bet, a lot of times, is going to be connecting through a hub, whereas we can get you there in a four-hour flight.”

Oakley said there is still room to grow, as the facility is nowhere near capacity. The sustained growth also means employment opportunities for the Rockford community.

“Last year I think we added right around 2,000 jobs and in the year ahead we should add around another thousand new jobs,” Oakley said. “We should continue to see that growth here in the next couple of years. As we continue to grow, our customers’ need for employees will grow as well.”

The Chicago Rockford International Airport now ranks as the 19th-busiest cargo airport in the nation, but officials said the airport’s growth isn’t the result of stealing business from nearby facilities in Chicago or Madison.

“We would be more than happy to welcome them here, but we're not necessarily going there trying to just pull the business away,” Oakley said. “There's a lot of people that are trying to access the Midwest already. We're just trying to offer an alternative.”

The Center Square Correspondent

A radio veteran with nearly twenty years of experience, Scot Bertram is the General Manager of Radio Free Hillsdale 101.7 FM, the student radio station at Hillsdale College. Bertram is also the co-host of "Political Beats" for National Review Online.