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Amazon Air picks San Bernardino airport for western hub

Local opponents say residents’ health concerns are being ignored

Amazon Prime Air will soon have a new western home at San Bernardino International Airport. (Photo: Flickr/Nathan Coats)

(Updated 4:45 P.M. ET with 2019 airport cargo statistics)

As expected, Amazon’s newest air hub will be in San Bernardino, California, where feeder aircraft from various cities and trucks from nearby warehouses will arrive with packages to be sorted and redistributed nationwide on outbound airplanes.

The San Bernardino International Airport authority made the announcement Friday, confirming what had been an open secret about who would occupy a 700,000-square foot campus with additional space for 14 all-cargo aircraft.

Developer Hillwood Enterprises began construction on the site in January and is scheduled to complete the project by the end of the year.

“Our new Regional Air Hub at SBD International Airport allows us to better deliver on our commitment of fast, free shipping for our customers,” said Sarah Rhoads, vice president, Amazon Global Air, in a statement. “The Regional Air Hub is being built from the ground up to fit Amazon Air’s operational needs, including the use of solar power and electric ground support equipment. We look forward to opening the facility in 2021.”

Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has been building out its air fleet and infrastructure in recent years to have more direct control of shipping expenses and performance in an effort to meet same-day, one-day and two-day delivery promises for Prime customers.

A photo of the site shared with FreightWaves by the airport authority shows about half the main building’s outer wall and some structural supports have been erected so far.

Local officials praised the $200 million Eastgate Air Cargo Logistics Center for bringing economic and employment benefits to the community, which sits in the warehouse-dense Inland Empire, about an hour ‘s drive east of Los Angeles. But the state of California and a coalition of environmental and neighborhood groups have separately sued to stop the privately financed project until more pollution-mitigation measures and job guarantees are included in the lease. Opponents say their concerns have not been taken into account. They contend that the diesel emissions from the huge number of trucks in the area are causing serious health issues for residents and also that the warehouses are not paying good living wages.

Opening briefs from the plaintiffs are due in court on June 22, according to the California Attorney General’s office.

Amazon Air operates more than 45 aircraft at more than 20 U.S. air gateways. Its primary air hub at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport will open in 2021. 

The East Gate Air Cargo Logistics Center is designed to handle up to 26 takeoffs and landings per day.

Amazon Air will continue to operate at the nearby Ontario International Airport, spokeswoman Kate Kudrna said. Ontario is a local endpoint in Amazon’s air network, while San Bernardino will be a sort center that receives international and domestic planeloads and then reroutes orders to different states.

San Bernardino Airport has experienced phenomenal cargo growth after it became a node in the UPS air network in late 2017 and FedEx Express opened a facility in 2018. Last year, cargo landed weight increased 93% to 352 million pounds and aircraft landings more than doubled to 1,332.

Logistics companies see the airport as a strategic alternative to Los Angeles International Airport and nearby warehouses because of its lower cost structure and less crowded conditions. A new dedicated truck entrance on a major arterial roadway separates trucks from other vehicles entering or exiting the airport and was designed to facilitate speedy truck inspections.

Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]