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Shipping Demands Create a Mess at O’Hare

Shipping Demands Create a Mess at O’Hare

O’Hare airport in Chicago is one of the biggest air freight hubs in the U.S. and right now, it’s making life difficult for shippers. Shipment volumes have skyrocketed in the recent months, and add to that typical logistical problems and you’ve got a combination that creates big problems.

When employees of the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports refused to unload ships for days on end during a contract dispute this past February, shipments via air saw a dramatic increase. Numerous companies decided to start moving goods such as electronic and automotive cargo to air, instead of waiting on port delays on the West Coast. Even though the problem at the ports has been resolved for a number of months now, volumes for air shipments remain high. After using air for quite some time, they grown to enjoy its convenience and many are choosing to stick with it.

Overall, the U.S. as a whole is seeing a national increase is air shipments driven by an ever-improving economy. The last 4 months saw a 5-6% increase in air-cargo volume. The Department of Transportation stated that there was a 17% spike in the Pacific areas alone.

In terms of traffic, O’Hare is the nation’s sixth-largest hub for air cargo. The Chicago Department of Aviation reports that the first half of this year, O’Hare saw cargo tonnage rise by 20% but more recently has slowed down with volume only about 7% higher than it was a year ago. O’Hare certainly isn’t alone. Atlanta officials are concerned about delays of cargo as well, and Los Angeles and Dallas-Fort Worth are also experiencing increases in freight.

But in Chicago, ground complications are adding problems to the mix. Roads on three sides leading into O’Hare are under construction, causing delays to carriers getting in. Drivers often have to wait hours on end, sitting in traffic, and sometimes reach their daily driving limit under the new hours-of-service regulations.

They are also of short supply of ground handlers, those employees who sort and dispense cargo to trucks. And when they do find new workers, they are experiencing long approval wait times for getting their new contracted employees ready and working, causing distribution of freight to fall behind. It may take a month and a half for new employees to get security clearance, and

some simply get tired of waiting and move on to other jobs. “It takes six weeks from when you sit with someone to when they start training,” said Justin Lindsay, regional vice president of operations for Forward Air Corp. “It takes minutes for them to get frustrated and walk out the door.”

A request has been made to the city to try and speed up their construction projects as well as creating new routes to the airport. They are also working on new techniques for coordination on the ground, including using social media for delays and cargo updates and working with drivers before they reach the airport. Also, because the on-site storage buildings are not big enough for the amount of cargo that needs to be housed, Owen Kilmer, a spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Aviation, said a project is in the works to build an 800,000 square foot facility for processing cargo.

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