By David Pendered
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed outlined his vision Tuesday for the airport to greatly expand its role as a freight handler.
Reed said he can see the day when passengers use the airport by day, and in the wee hours the airport becomes a major freight-handling facility. Reed made the comment during a panel discussion at the third annual State of the Ports Luncheon.
“At midnight, the airport should be handling cargo,” Reed said, adding that he wants to see the airport join the ranks of the top 10 cargo handlers.
The mayor took credit for what he said is a 17 percent increase in air cargo at Atlanta’s airport.
“I’m directly in charge of that,” Reed said.
The mayor also expressed complete confidence in airport General Manager Louis Miller.
Reed said Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport remains the world’s No. 1 airport in terms of passenger volume. The international terminal is on course to open as scheduled next Spring, he said, at a cost of $1.5 billion.
The mayor did not mention the delays in the contracts for concessions at the airport. The schedule announced in March had those contracts being signed in September. But the city rejected all bids last month and called for new submissions, which were due Tuesday and Wednesday.
Atlanta COO Peter Aman said last month that the concessions that serve passengers with food, beverage and retail services will be open when the international terminal opens.
Reed reiterated his position that the airport is extremely valuable in continuing metro Atlanta’s position as a hub of international business. Reed contends that foreign businesspersons want to fly into a region, do their business there, and board a plane to go home.
Such business travelers do not want to fly into Atlanta, leave the region to conduct business in a distant city, and return to Atlanta to catch a flight home, the mayor said.
Reed served on a panel with Gov. Nathan Deal and Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority. The event was co-hosted by the ports authority and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. The moderator was Chris Clark, the chamber’s president and CEO.
Reed also joined his fellow panelists in supporting the ongoing effort to deepen the Savannah Harbor in order to handle the larger container ships that will be passing from the Pacific Rim trade zone through a widened Panama Canal.
Reed’s concept for Atlanta’s airport becoming a 24-hour facility harkens back to an idea proposed by then-Mayor Maynard Jackson.
In Jackson’s third term, he had dreams of developing a light industrial park at the airport. Parts could be flown in and received at a facility on airport property, assembled into finished goods, and shipped out by air.
The proposal was cutting edge at the time and other regions had similar dreams. One example is the proposed Global Trans Park in eastern North Carolina. The market has yet to embrace the concept.