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Colorado Springs Airport gives investors foothold for cargo development

Public-private partnership with Burrell Aviation aims to attract airline, logistics tenants

An investment group sees strong logistics and airfreight potential at Colorado Springs airport. (Photo: Shutterstock/University of College)

MIAMI — An investment group is targeting Colorado Springs, Colorado, as the next hidden gem to support growing demand for air cargo transportation in locations that offer cheaper operating costs and less congestion than major hub airports.

Burrell Aviation on Tuesday announced plans to construct multiple facilities for air cargo handling, cold storage, warehouse/distribution, integrated logistics and aircraft maintenance and testing on a 65-acre parcel at Colorado Springs Airport.

The company said it is ready to invest up to $110 million in modern infrastructure and work with state and local development groups to attract interest in Colorado Springs Airport.

Aspen, Colorado-based Burrell Group formed an equity arm in 2019 to invest in new aviation infrastructure, primarily at regional airports to meet burgeoning demand for air cargo. Boeing’s 20-year outlook calls for airfreight volumes to double by 2041. Airports are captive markets with limited land and companies that need quick and regular access to air transport are increasingly willing to pay for the convenience. 

The company differs from traditional airport real estate developers that typically respond to requests for proposals from airport authorities. Rather than wait for a project to come up, Burrell’s strategy is to create the project. It aggressively scouts out opportunities and convinces airports the old procurement process is too slow for shippers with immediate supply chain needs. It usually establishes a foothold ground lease with the airport for a term of 30 years or more and then relies on a consortium of partners to build, market, sublease and operate the facilities. 

“The traditional developers are reactive to the interest that has been generated. We’re much further upstream,” CEO John Carver told FreightWaves last week at The International Air Cargo Association’s trade show here. “We’re picking the airports and then working with the airports to identify the highest and best use. And then we have the opportunity to make the investment. What we’ve done is secured the only developable land available at the airports that we have positions at … so if somebody has business in Colorado Springs, all roads are going to lead through our property.”

Burrell has quietly developed a portfolio of 21 airports from Alaska to South Florida but is now becoming more public about its investment strategy. It focuses on nonpassenger facilities, including cargo, corporate hangars, aerospace/defense and maintenance. The public-private partnerships are based on a bundled package of services.

Colorado Springs doesn’t handle much cargo now, but investors see a need for air cargo infrastructure to support regional logistics growth. (Photo: Colorado Springs Airport)

Last week, Burrell formalized a national design-build master service agreement with Lemartec, one of the top general contractors in the aviation sector and part of MasTec Inc. (NYSE: MTZ), a Fortune 500 construction company. The companies will collaborate on developing regional municipal airport projects that increase access to air cargo services and enable smaller airports to generate economic growth. 

Burrell is also in discussions to bring on a large airport services provider as a partner to handle cargo aircraft and operate terminals, said Carver. Finding tenants for the airport properties is the responsibility of Cushman & Wakefield, a global real estate services firm.

“Now that we have a critical mass, we can go out and get a meeting with DHL, for example, much easier than Baton Rouge [Metropolitan Airport in Louisiana] could on their own,” said Carver, who took the helm at Burrell in August. 

Between 2016-20, Carver served as deputy executive director for special projects at Los Angeles World Airports, the airport authority that runs Los Angeles International Airport.

“What we’ve tried to do is create this first-mover position by cherry-picking the airports that we think are the best,” he said. “What are the best airports? The airports that are the right geography, that are surrounded by large population bases but also have airport administrations that are a little more forward-thinking and willing to do things a little bit differently. The more parochial way of developing property at airports doesn’t work for the supply chain as much because it’s all about speed to market.”

More FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.

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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 and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. In December 2022, he was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. 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]