Many U.S. airports are planning major expansion efforts in the next few years, mostly as a result of growing passenger traffic, but also because of rapid increases in airfreight demand. That could mean good things for truckers that handle air cargo on the ground, especially as such construction will include new freight terminals and roadway connections to ease truck access.

According to aircraft maker Boeing’s World Air Cargo Forecast 2000/2001, global air cargo traffic increased 5.7% during 1999, after a very disappointing 1998, when traffic grew less than 0.1%. Boeing’s research indicates that air cargo growth appears to be back on trend with most Asian markets displaying robust growth during the last half of 1999.

Those air cargo growth forecasts, coupled with two years of record passenger traffic, have convinced airports they need to expand their facilities. According to bond-rating agency Fitch Inc., 51 of the largest U.S. airports are planning to issue $30 billion worth of construction bonds over the next four years – a 43% jump from what those airports issued between 1995 and 1999. For all airports nationwide, the total is expected to reach $88 billion in construction bonds, focused largely on building bigger terminals or ‘hubs,’ said Fitch.

The biggest spenders, according to Fitch, will be John F. Kennedy International in New York, Los Angeles International, Atlanta’s Hartsfield International, and Miami International.

The construction comes none too soon for air cargo carriers. Boeing’s report said long-term air cargo growth is expected to average 6.4% per year, with growth in markets linked to Asia continuing to lead the rest of the industry at rates exceeding the world average.

Federal Express Corp. chairman, president and CEO Frederick Smith is one air cargo executive who has called repeatedly for both the public and private sector to increase the capacity of the U.S. aviation system.

“An enormous percentage of the entire output of the U.S. and world economies is in flight or moving between airports to fill various air cargo and air express systems,” Smith said during a speech at the Wings Club in New York City recently. “As a result, governments, the business community and consumers everywhere have a vital and direct interest in the smooth and safe operations of our aviation-based cargo system.”