Azerbaijan-based Silk Way West Airlines is the latest carrier to begin flying to Rickenbacker International Airport in Columbus, Ohio, a cargo-focused airport that recently marked the arrival of its 500th passenger aircraft with only cargo onboard.
The first Silk Way B747 freighter touched down at Rickenbacker (LCK) this week under a long-term lease with Trinity Logistics USA, the Columbus Regional Airport Authority said.
New York-based Trinity operates one of the largest private air networks into LCK. Since 2017, it has dispatched more than 500 all-cargo leased aircraft to the Midwest airport with fashion and garment products from main gateways in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, said Trinity President David Pereira.
Rickenbacker is Silk Way’s second regularly scheduled destination in the U.S. It also operates all-cargo aircraft to Chicago O’Hare International Airport three times per week. Silk Way was founded in 2012 and operates about 250 regular and charter flights around the world every month with a fleet of 12 Boeing 747-8 and 747-400 freighters, according to its website.
Meanwhile, LCK recently welcomed its 500th auxiliary freighter operated by a passenger airline, which is a notable milestone considering it is not a passenger hub airport.
Airlines deployed more than 2,500 aircraft in cargo-only mode to make up for some of the lost capacity from shuttered passenger operations during COVID and capitalize on high demand from shippers. The planes fly with cargo in the belly hold, but some airlines have even resorted to cabin loading with cargo in seats or seats removed. Many airports have handled these types of flights, but almost all of them tend to go to passenger airports, not alternative cargo gateways.
Rickenbacker is the only dedicated cargo airport known to have received any cargo-only passenger flights.
The airport sees regular auxiliary freighters from Emirates, Etihad Airways, Korean Airlines, Philippine Airlines and Qatar Airways.
Rickenbacker has become increasingly popular for many logistics companies and all-cargo carriers because cargo is unloaded, cleared by Customs and on its way to customers in a fraction of the time that it takes at major hub airports. Flights with cargo in the cabin can take longer to unload.
The airport authority estimates that more than 1 million boxes of consumer goods and manufacturing components have arrived at Rickenbacker aboard the 500 passenger-freighters.
LCK handled 4% more international arrivals last year, although the cargo-only aircraft can’t carry as large a payload as the pure freighters. But airport officials have said they anticipate growth in cargo volumes this year.