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Maestro choreographs way around O’Hare cargo gridlock

Off-airport warehouse designed as relief valve for business with imports

Cargo sits in a warehouse in Des Plaines, Ill., a Chicago suburb. (Photo: MIC Cargo)

Maestro International Cargo, a local company that provides airside ground handling services for airlines, is shuttling import shipments off the ramp to a new warehouse three miles from Chicago O’Hare International Airport to alleviate huge backlogs at airport terminals.

The 164,000-square foot facility, located three miles away in Des Plaines, Illinois, opened in June and officials held a grand opening ceremony July 27. It has 16 dock doors and two ramps. It also is open 24 hours a day to provide shippers and their trucking vendors the flexibility to recover freight when it’s most convenient or during less busy periods. The operating hours stand in contrast to many other operators that have shortened their work days in the past 18 months.

Airport service providers Alliance Ground International and Swissport have mirrored MIC Cargo’s move to off-airport properties in an effort to expedite cargo clearance at O’Hare, where terminals are buried with inbound cargo and logistics companies say it can take up to 10 days to pick up shipments. 

As previously reported, the number of all-cargo aircraft servicing the airport is up sharply since the COVID pandemic began and ground handlers don’t have the space or workers to efficiently process, segregate and load the deluge of cargo on trucks. 

The strong economy, online ordering and low inventory levels are spurring demand for air transport services, especially with ocean supply chains experiencing serious jams of their own.

MIC Cargo said in a news release Monday that, with the exception of one airline customer, all shipper-built pallets and unit load devices arriving at an international passenger terminal or the company’s cargo terminal at O’Hare will be immediately sent to the Des Plaines facility on trucks equipped with roller beds. All pharmaceutical shipments will remain at the company’s airport facility where it has a two-temperature cold storage unit. 

“We have made it our goal to have import cargo available eight to 10 hours after a flight arrives,” said COO Rafal Rapacz. 

MIC Cargo, a portfolio company of Inoa Ventures Management, said it plans further upgrades to the new warehouse, including more dock doors, an automated roller bed system and racking for thousands of pallets with automated retrieval capabilities. The combination of roller bed trucks and conveyors minimizes the need for forklifts at the dock entrance. 

“The cargo growth at O’Hare required us to take action,” CEO Edip Petkas said. “Delivering on further technology and automation will allow us to increase throughput and gain valuable floor space to work the continuous flow of arriving cargo by getting it off the ground and into the air until our customers can take possession.”

MIC Cargo is utilizing CargoSprint’s SprintPass reservation system to help manage truck pick ups. 

The 4-year-old company also operates an export-only facility near the airport for receiving, staging and building export containers and pallets. 

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


Cargo handlers move to airport suburbs to escape O’Hare congestion

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. He won Environmental Journalist of the Year from the Seahorse Freight Association in 2014 and was the group's 2013 Supply Chain Journalist of the Year. 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]