Located some 68 miles to the northwest of Chicago and covering over 3,000 acres one will find the Chicago Rockford International Airport. The airport has been home to the 2nd largest hub for UPS (United Parcel Service) since 1994 and has 2 facilities at the airport now. Rockford has also been home to a large 200,000 square foot Amazon Air facility which was built in 2016 and was recently expanded. The airport can trace its history back to 1917 when the United States Army established Camp Grant, one of the largest training facilities in the United States. The Army would transfer the facility to the Illinois National Guard in 1923, but would reactivate the facility in 1941 at the start of World War II. In 1946 the Greater Rockford Airport Authority was created, in 1948 the land Camp Grant was situated on was transferred to the airport authority. In 1954 construction would begin on the airport and the original terminal building. The airport would be expanded several times over the coming years with an emphasis placed on cargo operations as opposed to passenger operations.
The present-day terminal was built in 1987, was modernized in 2005, the international terminal named after Donald A. Manzullo opened in 2006. Allegiant Airlines currently offers passenger service from Rockford to Mesa Arizona, Destin, Punta Gorda, Orlando/Sanford, Sarasota, and St. Petersburg Florida. Las Vegas Nevada is also a destination with all routes flown with a mix of Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft. Allegiant does not operate into Rockford on a daily basis, they had no scheduled flight on the day of my visit. The airport has two runways which can accommodate any size aircraft with runway 7/25 being 8,200 feet long and runway 1/19 at 10,002 feet long. In 2016, MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul) giant AAR Corporation opened a 200,000 square foot facility, which is large enough to accommodate 2 A380’s. AAR recently announced a long-term agreement with United Airlines to maintain its narrow body fleet. The airport is in the midst of a major expansion of cargo handling facilities with a 90,000 square foot building that is 100% occupied and another 100,000 square foot facility set to open. Rockford has attracted several airlines as a result of this ongoing expansion including: Air Atlanta Icelandic, Air Act Cargo, Air X Cargo, Atlas, Cargolux, Korean Airlines, Qatar Cargo among others. Emery Air does the cargo handling for these airlines in addition to being the on field FBO (Fixed Base Operator).
On December 15th of 2021, I was fortunate enough to be invited out on the ramp along with several other members of the Chicago Airport Watch program for several hours of photographing some 45 aircraft movements with almost all being widebody aircraft including Airbus A-300F’s and A340’s, Boeing 747-400F’s, 777-300’S, 767-200F & 300F’s and MD-11F’s. The only narrowbody to be seen was the Boeing 757-200F. The majority of cargo movements are during night time hours, but with Christmas just 10 days away this was one the busiest days for daylight movements of the year. The weather was anything but December like with low visibility, mist, strong southerly winds, and a temperature that hit 71 degrees.
We boarded buses at the main terminal and drove the airport perimeter until we reached our photo spot on the South Cargo Ramp adjacent to taxiways Bravo and Gulf. This was a perfect spot to catch the arrivals and departures off of Runway 19 with all arrivals taxiing right past us, or in the case of the Air Act Cargo 747-400F parking right behind us. Not surprisingly most movements were UPS (United Parcel Service) with flights to and from cities such as Ontario CA, Salt Lake City UT, Dallas TX, Minneapolis MN, Louisville KY, and Philadelphia PA.
Among the airlines and aircraft we photographed that day included Boeing 747-481 BDSF, TC-ACF of Istanbul Turkey based Air Act Cargo. This 747 was the only aircraft to land on Runway 25, and parked directly behind us.
Air Atlanta Icelandic had a pair of Boeing 747-428’s present which included TF-AAK and TF-AAJ. It is worth noting that TF-AAK is the former aircraft that the rock group Iron Maiden flew on, dubbed “Ed Force 1”. Both of these aircraft are passenger carrying 747’s with the passenger cabin configured to carry cargo.
Air X Leasing’s Airbus A340-312, appropriately registered, 9H-BIG was seen on the South Cargo Ramp having arrived much earlier in the morning from Anchorage AK. This A340 had the passenger cabin modified by removing the seats to carry bulk cargo.
No surprise that Air Transport International had several 767’s at Rockford this day operating for Amazon Prime Air. Boeing 767-281, N791AX was seen departing for Houston Bush International airport in Air Transport International Titles.
Boeing 767-306ER, N1229A in full Amazon Prime colors was also seen departing to Ontario CA.
Boeing 767-306ER BCF, N1321A also operating in full Amazon colors was seen arriving from Tampa FL.
Korean Airlines operates Boeing 777-3B5ER’s to Rockford from Seoul, South Korea on a daily basis. These 777’s operate as cargo flights only and carry no passengers, HL7203 was seen arriving on 12-15, these flights use the International Arrivals Ramp.
UPS (United Parcel Service) had several flights in and out of Rockford this day as previously mentioned. Several Airbus Industries A300F4-622ER’s were seen including N154UP, N164UP, N165UP, N166UP, and N171UP. Five different Boeing 757-2A4PF’s were seen including N418UP, N420UP, N448UP, N457UP and N473UP.
A total of six Boeing 767-34AFER’s were seen including N305UP, N335UP, N338UP and N345UP which are fitted with winglets.
It is worth noting that Boeing 767-34AFER’s N366UP and N367UP were seen and do not have winglets.
Western Global had all white Boeing MD-11F N543JN at Rockford operating for UPS to Philadelphia PA.
The Chicago Rockford International Airport ranks as the 17th largest airport in the country for air cargo and set a record of handling 2.7 billion pounds of cargo for the months of January through October of 2021. The airport is planning for further expansion this year to further increase and enhance its cargo handling capabilities. As a matter of fact, Emirates and Ethiopian Airlines Cargo just started service to Rockford with 777 cargo flights several times a week. Rockford’s close proximity to Chicago and its congestion free ramps and runways compared to Chicago O’Hare make more growth inevitable. The Chicago Rockford International Airport is spotter friendly with several spots around the airport in which to view and photograph the arrivals and departures. A very big thank you to the Operations Staff of the Chicago Rockford International Airport for their time and hospitality and this opportunity. Until next time, “Blue Skies to All!”