Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP) is exploring ways to expand air cargo operations in light of significant disruptions to the global supply chain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a virtual presentation on June 1 to potential new air cargo customers across the state, GSP is positioning itself to meet an anticipated growing need.
The presentation was led by Steve Schellenberg, vice president for business development with International Management Services Worldwide, an aviation consulting company hired by GSP to help develop plans to expand the airport’s air cargo capacity.
Schellenberg explained that a key link in the nation’s supply chain was cut when the pandemic grounded most commercial airliners, whose baggage holds carry about 60% of all air cargo.
“The lift essentially evaporated,” Schellenberg said. “But we still have to find a way to move cargo.”
Tom Tyra, GSP’s director of community and air service development, told the Upstate Business Journal that GSP’s push to meet growing air cargo and logistics needs began in 2016, when it acquired Cerulean Aviation. The airport subsequently partnered with Senator International, another aviation logistics company mainly involved in flying auto parts to Germany.
Tyra said those dual relationships led GSP to invest $35 million in a 110,000-square-foot air cargo facility that came online in 2019. Now, the airport can accommodate three cargo planes at once, he said.
Both Tyra and Schellenberg pointed to the demands of a “just-in-time” supply chain as a point of vulnerability exposed by the pandemic. Tyra said companies that had not accounted for extended disruptions to their supply networks struggled to keep up in a pandemic economy.
“Companies really have to look at whether they want to have all their eggs in one basket,” Tyra said.
Stephen Astemborski, director of aerospace initiatives for the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness, said the trick for GSP and other air hubs throughout the state is having the right capacity at the right time to meet the shippers’ needs.
Tyra said that the airport’s presentation is an effort to reach manufacturers that might not have previously considered air cargo as a viable logistics option. He said that, combined with the draw of Inland Port Greer and the geographical advantages both the airport and the inland port enjoy, companies throughout the region may have real, bottom-line reasons for considering the Upstate as a viable logistics hub.
“Now a company has multiple ways to ship their products,” Tyra said. “If that is the solution (companies choose) going forward, then GSP and South Carolina can win.”