Future Air Cargo Infrastructure Condition
Infrastructure Condition Overview
Improvements continue to be planned for and made to roadways surrounding the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) to accommodate air cargo-related truck traffic. However, as air freight technology develops, new infrastructure demands will arise for both airports and the transportation network to address deficiencies which will enable the new technology to be implemented.
Planned Air Cargo-Related Roadway Improvements
OKI’s Transportation Improvement Program and 2050 Metropolitan Transportation Plan contain several projects that address the growth of air cargo shipments originating and terminating from CVG that rely upon the region’s roadway network. Some examples include major widening of KY 237 (Donaldson Road) and KY 3076 (Mineola Pike), and intersection improvements at KY 18 (Burlington Pike) and KY 2017 (Aero Parkway). These roadway improvements are necessary due to the dramatic increases in CVG air cargo volume over the past decade and the continued future growth being forecasted. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) is the Local Public Agency (LPA) responsible for administering these roadway projects.
Improvements are not only limited to transportation infrastructure. Other improvements at CVG include the increase of on-site distribution facility capacity including plans for an Air Cargo Village that would provide new, direct freight handling capabilities between airplanes and trucks. CVG’s objective is to further diversify from an existing focus on the express segment of the air cargo industry. A new Air Cargo Village would accommodate general air freight customers within a 120- to 300-mile truck driving radius and serve as a consolidation point for international imports and exports. General air cargo is non-express cargo that does not require special precautions or handling, such as dangerous goods, live animals, and other time and temperature sensitive products. General cargo includes most consumer goods, dry goods, hardware, and textiles.
One significant limitation to planned improvements is the current inflation of material and labor expenses, which is escalating total project costs and, in turn, limiting the number of improvements that can be completed. Unless additional funding can be obtained, timelines for completing projects are likely to be pushed further into the future while more improvements become needed and are added to the growing list.
Future Infrastructure Needs Due to New Technologies
CVG is the region’s only airport capable of handling all aircraft types in operation today. The largest aircraft accommodated daily is the B747-800F with a revenue payload of 133 tons, a range of 4,325 miles and nose loading capabilities for large roll-on/roll-off (RORO) payloads.
However, as new air cargo technologies come to fruition, CVG—and potentially the region’s other seven public airports—will need to consider what new infrastructure demands may arise.
Vertical Take Off and Landing Aircraft
Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft can launch vertically like a helicopter before transitioning to long-range flight. While there are many applications of VTOL technology, within freight, they will likely serve as a combination of middle mile and last mile functions. VTOLs consist of technology allowing remote human operation, potentially from a centralized hub with multiple operators, or they may operate autonomously with a pre-programmed flight path.
In addition to private companies conducting research and development of VTOL aircraft, AFWERX, the innovation arm of the United States Air Force (USAF), created the Agility Prime program to assess these transformative technologies. Agility Prime also signed interagency agreements with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to formulate aircraft certification approaches and flight standards for operators, maintenance, new aircraft configurations, powertrains, and levels of autonomy.
In April 2019, the Air Force Research Laboratory received federal approval to operate uncrewed aircraft beyond line of sight using SkyVision. The approval has allowed the Ohio Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Center to facilitate the research and development, testing, certification and commercialization of UAS systems in the state. The Ohio UAS Center manages SkyVision operations and can help organizations with the opportunity to operate at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport in Clark County, Ohio.
One of the primary advantages VTOLs offers is the smaller footprint required for take-off and landing compared to traditional aircraft. This eliminates the shortcomings of shorter runways at nonprimary airports. Though runway length is not a hinderance with VTOLs, there are other infrastructure improvements required. VTOLs will require a combination of the following infrastructure to operate.
New launching space will need to be constructed at existing airfields or new locations. Construction at existing airfields will need to account for existing horizontal take off and landing airspace, while new vertiports will likely face the same obstacles as the construction of other types of new commercial/public infrastructure.
Air traffic control
VTOLs will likely rely on FAA’s existing systems and practices for managing air traffic. Widespread proliferation of VTOLs will require these to be scaled up to handle an influx of new traffic.
Communications and Global Positioning System (GPS)
For VTOLs operating autonomously or remotely, new vertiports will require the availability of low-latency communications and GPS signal for aircraft to maintain connectivity with control centers and orient themselves accurately. This will require high speed, secure fiberoptic networks to ensure constant communication between aircraft and those monitoring them.
For electric and hybrid VTOLs, charging infrastructure will be similar to other forms of electrified mobility, requiring high-voltage power, a nearby substation, and potentially on-site energy generation and/or storage to support high-consumption, rapid charging demands.
Traditional access and building infrastructure
At the basic level, VTOLs used for cargo applications require traditional infrastructure to facilitate the movement of goods. This includes truck access for pickup and delivery, depending on which end of the trip may require a ground movement. Requirements also include supportive land use and zoning regulations for the storage of and distribution of goods. Because VTOLs are currently designed for the movement of lighter, higher value goods, these facilities often must be temperature controlled for items such as medicine or electronics. The associated security, access to workforce, and ample employee and truck parking must also be considered.
Vertical Take Off and Landing Movement Diagram
Source: HDR, Inc. (March 1, 2023).
Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles
The term Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is replacing the use of “drone” or “unmanned” aerial vehicle to describe technology that can be used primarily for short trips transporting parcels typically weighing five pounds or less between modes or for first and last mile transport. However, technology firms are continuing to explore UAVs’ ability to transport larger and heavier loads up to 500 pounds. Griff Aviation is a Norwegian company that focuses on delivery to distant, hard to access places such as deep-water construction sites. Currently, The Griff 135 has a payload capacity of 60 pounds.
(Source: Griff Aviation, (December 2022).
Today, UAVs must follow rules of operation which require human operation within sight distance. In this manner, they are self-contained and can be deployed directly from a delivery truck or other vehicle by one operator to multiple nearby destinations. The reduction or elimination of overhead obstructions such as power lines through burying of them in trenches may serve beneficial to adoption especially in urbanized areas.
In 2021, Kroger and Drone Express partnered to launch on-demand UAV grocery deliveries in Centerville, Ohio, as a pilot demonstration project. The flights are managed by licensed Drone Express pilots from an on-site trailer. The UAVs can carry an order of up to five pounds and complete trips within a two-mile radius of the Kroger Centerville store location in under an hour.
Drone Express has recently tested its potential for heavier UAV deliveries, beyond the usual demands of commercial goods, in its partnership with Winnsupply Inc., a wholesale distributor of construction materials headquartered in Dayton, Ohio. In August 2022, Drone Express completed a three-mile drone delivery of material between Miamisburg and Centerville. This pilot aims to reduce the time contractors spend retrieving materials which is currently a time-intensive and disruptive process.
Future Air Cargo Fuel Supply Infrastructure
Fuel for cargo jets at CVG is transported primarily by pipeline and, to a lesser degree, trucks. Between 2016 and 2019, fuel supplied by pipeline increased over 52%. CVG’s continued cargo growth will increase fuel demand in the future. Adequate infrastructure will be needed to meet this demand. This includes an ample supply of kerosene-based Jet A, as well as alternative fuels and energy sources that are rapidly evolving such as sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). SAF is certified to the same specification as Jet A, but made of primarily renewable feedstocks that have a lower carbon intensity than kerosene-derived fuels, and can utilize the same current fueling infrastructure.