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Supply Chain News: Former Airborne Express Hub in Wilmington, OH Seeking Lost Glory

 

Cargo Up 289% in 2020, as Amazon Expands Operations

 
July 27, 2021
SCDigest Editorial Staff

The airport in Wilmington, OH was once a bustling enterprise, serving as the main US hub for then parcel carrier Airborne Express.

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Amazon Air flight departures begin at 11 PM, with the window between take-offs shrinking to a mere four minutes by 12:30 AM


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But in a disastrous move, DHL acquired Airborne in 2003, hoping to quickly gain a presence in the US parcel market.
It was a financial bloodbath, with US operation losing tens of millions of dollars each year – even though Airborne had been profitable. The losses caused DHL, which eventually totally left the US domestic business – to move its international shipments to a facility it ran at Cincinnati’s airport.


At the end, there were some 9500 employees working at the air hub – and one in three households in the city of Wilmington (population 12,000) had someone who worked there.


More recently, some saw hope that Amazon would open its first air hub at the Wilmington facility, now owned by the county after DHL donated as it left the business.


But the town’s hope were dashed when in 2017 Amazon instead chose the Cincinnati airport some 50 south as the hub location, fueled by a planned $1.5 billion investment.


But it turns out things are looking up for Wilmington Air Park.


Last year, the airport handled 439 million pounds – up 289% versus 2019 - making it the third largest cargo-focused airport in the US, according to data in a report from DePaul University. And most of that traffic, it turns out, comes from Amazon.


According to an article Sunday in the Dayton Daily News, in Amazon’s goal of delivering many packages in one or two days, the Willington air hub is the “linchpin,” according Bret Kresak, the air park’s general manager.


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The Dayton paper said that at 4 PM each day, a dozen cargo flights and some 50 truck trailers begin arriving at the facility.


By 1 AM the planes and trucks have departed.


“In the nine hours between, 1,100 employees work in a choreographed production to unload thousands of packages sent from 50 states, directing them to new destinations,” according to the report.


The Wilmington sortation facility features1.1 million square feet of space - 550,000 square feet on each of two levels.
It appears Amazon is using the same material handling systems inside the building there when DHL bailed out.
The hub is a multi-modal facility, sorting parcels from airplane to airplane (”air-to-air”), airplane to truck (”air-to-ground”) and truck to airplane (”ground-to-air”)

“Right now, we’re the only Amazon site that does that,” the airport’s . “The other Amazon sites across the country do ground-to-air and air-ground. So we’re unique in the fact that we do air-to-air,” Kresak told the Dayton Daily News.

Of cargo coming in, 60% arrives on planes and 40% by truck. Outbound, 80% departs by air and 20% by truck, with ground deliveries destined for homes and businesses within 300 miles of Wilmington.

Amazon Air flight departures begin at 11 PM, with the window between take-offs shrinking to a mere four minutes by 12:30 AM

“It’s a very high speed sortation operation,” Kresak said. “It’s very synchronized, and it’s very efficient.”
According to the DePaul report, the hubs at Cincinnati and Wilmington “position Amazon to move assertively into third-party delivery at the time of its choosing.”


Even after Amazon’s main air hub opens in Cincinnati later this year, experts seem to believe Wilmington has a bright future – in part because there are no passenger flights to contend with at the airport.


“There are precious few cargo-only airports in the country that are flourishing, and Wilmington is one of them,” Joseph Schwieterman of DePaul and co-author of the report told the paper.



What do you think the Wilmington hub's fall and recovery? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.


 
 
   

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