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Future Air Cargo Mobility & Reliabilty

Air Cargo Capacity

The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) is not impacted by major air traffic congestion nor is the airport slot-controlled which is when congested airports have arrival and departure times set for aircraft due to capacity constraints. CVG is not near capacity due to its four runways.

However, according to airport representatives, air cargo capacity may be constrained by the ability to move cargo to and from the airport and surrounding air cargo-dependent businesses due to roadway congestion. The Brent Spence Bridge has been specifically noted as a major capacity constraint hindering the movement of air cargo by delaying the delivery of time-sensitive products throughout the region.

Future Air Cargo Forecasts

CVG is heavily reliant on express cargo, which accounts for approximately 90% of all air cargo activity at the airport. To ensure continued growth and operational stability moving forward, airport management is actively looking to diversify and increase the airport’s overall share of general air cargo. This strategy supports the airport’s plans for the development of a future Air Cargo Village.

In 2022, about 1.98 million tons of cargo was transported through CVG, which represented a nearly 17% annual increase over 2021 volumes. The United States Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) generates future freight forecasts that show air cargo tonnage at CVG will more than double by 2050. However, these federal forecasts do not indicate that the commodities transported by air will change over the next three decades. The forecasted growth within most commodity types points to an expected growth in the regional businesses that focus on product manufacturing.

The greater than 120% increase in overall future air cargo tonnage is expected to be driven by growth in commodities like electronics, which include finished products such as computers and batteries, as well as electronic manufacturing components like transistors, semiconductors, and circuit boards.

In addition, a large percentage growth in textiles (273%) is forecast by 2050, which includes fabrics and leather ready for finishing, as well as finished products for automobile applications, clothing, footwear, and luggage. This growth is presumed to be a result of e-commerce purchases and growth in auto parts manufacturing (e.g. seats, headliners, etc.) in the region.

Other commodity groups contributing to the expected growth in air cargo include machinery (machine parts and finished products), plastics (packaging, household articles, hardware, etc.), motorized vehicles (finished vehicles and parts for manufacturing), and pharmaceuticals.

Role of Technology for Air Cargo Drayage Optimization

As the only threat facing the region’s air cargo capacity is that of drayage or the ability to accommodate future shipment growth between CVG and delivery generation and termination points, new technologies are helping to identify ways to optimize regional freight flow volumes.

Air to Road Drayage

Current drayage of air cargo happens through the use of trucks using the region’s roadway network. Drayage optimization applications use data and technology to enable information exchanges between all intermodal parties to provide current drayage truck load matching and appointment scheduling at air cargo terminals. It establishes a link between drivers and freight management system dispatchers to an intermodal terminal reservation system and integrates an appointment function with terminal queue status and load matching.

As part of their effort to deploy information-sharing capabilities in freight movement, USDOT developed the Freight Advanced Traveler Information System (FRATIS) in 2014 to test freight applications for improved operations efficiencies. This system was tested during the Drayage Optimization Proof of Concept Application, a series of pilot programs that allowed the system to evolve with lessons learned from each pilot deployment. The pilot deployments saw significant reductions in unproductive miles, fuel consumption, and emissions while also demonstrating improvements in driving time utilization and productivity.

(Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology, Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office. Dynamic Mobility Applications (DMA) Program. Freight Advanced Traveler Information System (FRATIS). (August 2015).)

In addition to improving mobility and reliability of air cargo deliveries, drayage optimization also provides environmental benefits in fuel usage reductions and emissions through decreases in truck idling, maximizing of truck load capacity, and fewer truck trips.

Air to Air Drayage

Drayage optimization may involve deployment of Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) and Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technologies in addition to freight traveler information, truck parking availability, and freight signal priority. Coordination amongst these strategies will require transparent tracking and high-speed internet or broadband that would support:

Integrated back-office platform

Interpreting data from the various technologies and other traffic detection equipment will require a sophisticated platform to manage drayage operations.

Web-based interface for shippers

Operators/dispatchers will need a tool to plan and monitor drayage shipments. In-cab messaging via App or other vehicle-based device may also be required.


Given the growth forecasted for air cargo, CVG is looking for alternatives other than trucks for moving freight to and from the airport. CVG staff are examining the potential application of VTOL technology to move freight between the airport and off-site collection facilities located throughout the region. Since 2021, CVG has operated the Miami University Airport in Oxford, Ohio (OXD), to test UAV and VTOL technology in partnership with universities, tech firms and FlyOhio—a division of the Ohio Department of Transportation. Using available air space, VTOL cargo trips could potentially reduce the region’s current dependence upon trucks on congested roadways to transport deliveries.

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