With its long runways and wide open spaces, Williams Gateway Airport in Mesa would seem to be an ideal location for air cargo operations.
But with the exception of an occasional battle -scarred Apache helicopter flown in from the Middle East for refurbishing by The Boeing Co. or a big transformer needed for the Valley’s electricity system, few international cargo flights rumble into the former U.S. Air Force base.
The Williams Gateway Airport Authority is renewing its efforts to increase international cargo traffic by organizing an International Air Cargo Development Task Force composed of representatives from the airport, Arizona Department of Transportation, Arizona Department of Commerce, the governor’s office, the Arizona Association of Industries and other entities interested in developing the Valley’s air cargo potential.
The job of the task force is to develop a strategy to attract air cargo carriers to the airport and to convince Valley manufacturers that they should use Williams Gateway as a shipping point for their products, said John Berry, commercial air service marketing and development manager for the airport.
“We need the support of the manufacturers in Arizona,” he said. “That is the first step. We need their commitment to use the service once it’s available. Then we can go to the (freight) forwarding community and ask them to direct freight from those manufacturers to this service. Then we can talk to the freight airlines.”
Berry said many Arizona businesses that ship products to and from Asia, Europe and other international regions could save money by using an airport in the Valley rather than having the materials shipped to Los Angeles or Dallas and then trucked to Phoenix.
He said a Japanese-based company with operations in Arizona figured it would save more than a $1 million a year in customs duties and fees by shipping materials directly through Mesa rather than to San Francisco and then by truck to Phoenix.
“The major hurdle is getting people to change their habits,” he said. “They have to be willing to make adjustments in their current systems to give this a shot.”
Also the airport would need to acquire ground equipment to load and unload cargo, which could be provided by an airport services contractor, he said.
Overall, the airport’s goal is to develop a logistics center to support international air cargo operations, he said.
Williams Gateway has attracted a 25,000-squarefoot warehouse built by Scottsdale developer Fred Himovitz to process cargo. But currently the space is being used by the U.S. Forest Service and Universal Studios for the production of a movie rather than for cargo.
The U.S. Customs Service has set up an office at Williams Gateway to facilitate international cargo shipments.
Jim Brady, the customs service officer at Williams Gateway, said he also spends much of his time supervising companies that operate foreign trade zones and bonded warehouses in the Valley where foreign goods can be processed with reduced duties.
Most of those businesses do their international shipping through Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport or they clear customs through out-of-state airports such as Los Angeles before transporting the goods to the Valley by truck, he said.
But he believes it’s just a mater of time before international shipments start moving through Williams Gateway.
“It will happen,” he said. “This is a great place for it.”