Home » Op-Ed: Importance of air cargo to the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky economy

Op-Ed: Importance of air cargo to the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky economy

by John Dietrich, President and CEO of Atlas Air Worldwide

The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) has become one of the most important hubs for transporting air cargo around the globe. CVG is North America’s seventh largest cargo airport and supports thousands of high-skilled, good-paying jobs. Last year, CVG handled 1.7 million tons of air freight, a significant portion of which was transported by Atlas Air Worldwide, the company I lead.

You may not know that a somewhat obscure U.S. government policy called ‘Open Skies’ underpins CVG’s important role in the global supply chain. Open Skies provides airlines with expanded access to foreign airspace and airports by letting market forces – not government- set routes, capacity, and prices. The first Open Skies agreement, signed in 1992, was between the U.S. and the Netherlands. Since then, the U.S. Department of State, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, has negotiated Open Skies agreements with over 130 nations. Unfortunately, some are arguing that this successful policy should be abandoned or curtailed. These agreements have provided a tremendous opportunity for businesses and workers in the United States and right here in northern Kentucky, and they must be protected.

Northern Kentucky is important to Atlas, which began as a small international air freight company in 1992 – the same year that Open Skies took flight. Today we are one of the world’s largest air cargo carriers, moving everything from fresh fish and other perishables to electronics and automotive components. We are also the primary commercial air partner supporting the U.S. military.

CVG is our largest hub in North America, employing over 1,500 locally-based pilots and ground crew. In 2021, we opened our Global Operations Center in Erlanger. Indirectly, we are proud to support thousands of other local jobs, including those in aircraft maintenance, engine manufacturing, and at distribution centers. Atlas’ growth is a testament to the success of Open Skies. Our aircraft traverse the globe using bilateral Open Skies agreements and the ‘freedoms of the air’ they provide to link freight and markets economically.

It is clear that Open Skies agreements strengthen American supply chains and allow cost-effective air freight on a global scale. The flexibility of Open Skies makes air transport a viable option for American exporters. The U.S. Trade Representative reports that Ohio is the 9th largest state exporter of goods, with nearly a quarter of its exports generated by small and medium-sized businesses. Kentucky ranks 17th, with small and medium-sized businesses fueling 43% of exports. Undoubtedly, the market connectivity of Open Skies and the world-class cargo facilities at CVG contribute to these impressive statistics.

But Open Skies’ remarkable success over three decades should not be taken for granted. There are some in Washington who seek to undermine this policy. Legislation introduced in Congress would reverse the deregulatory mission of Open Skies by imposing new requirements on future Open Skies agreements. If politics prevails, this legislation would jeopardize the consistent and reliable flow of goods into and out of northern Kentucky that are critical to the economy.

As we celebrate 30 years of Open Skies, we must not backslide on the benefits of this policy. Open Skies are critical to northern Kentucky’s economic strength, from making our supply chains more resilient to providing affordable access to global markets. Now more than ever, we should recommit to this policy and ensure growth for American businesses and consumers.

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