A Day at the Rockford International Airport

The Chicago Rockford International Airport is located approximately sixty-eight miles Northwest of Chicago, Illinois and was founded in 1946. The airport was built on the grounds of the former Camp Grant which served as one of the largest U.S. Army training bases of World War I and II. The airport has two runways, Runway 01/19 at 8,200 feet long and Runway 07/25 at 10,002 feet long, this allows any size aircraft currently operating to safely operate in and out of Rockford. Rockford is primarily a cargo airport with both UPS (United Parcel Service) and Amazon Air having hub facilities here, many other cargo airlines including Atlas Air, Maersk Air Cargo, and Qatar Cargo also serve Rockford. Allegiant is the sole scheduled airline that serves Rockford and offers service to six destinations at the time this article was written using a mixture of Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft.

On Wednesday December 20th, I was fortunate enough to be invited on a ramp tour of the airport, one of the many perks of being part of the Chicago Airport Watch Program. This tour was planned during the busiest week of the year for Amazon Air and UPS daylight flights due to the Christmas holiday. During the month of December and the days leading up to Christmas UPS adds additional daylight flights from cities such as Burbank, Dallas Fort Worth, Ontario California, Seattle, and many others. Amazon Air also added flights from cities like Houston and Phoenix Arizona.

UPS has operated a Regional Air Hub at Rockford since 1994 and is currently the second largest Air Hub in the UPS network. The majority of flights are operated during the overnight hours late Monday night into early Friday morning with a mix of Airbus A300 and Boeing 757-200,767-300, and MD11 aircraft. UPS operated approximately 23-night flights through the week and can accommodate up to 30 aircraft on its ramp. Rockford received a big boost in operations when UPS moved flights from Des Moines IA to Rockford in 2017 which saw an additional thirteen flights added. The Rockford HUB is used to sort overnight air packages and heavyweight air freight shipments from its 586,000 square foot facility which can sort 121,000 packages and employs over 1,100 people.

During my visit, several UPS aircraft were present and included several examples of the Airbus Industries A300F4-622R and also the Boeing 767-34AFER aircraft. It is worth noting that the 767 aircraft were both equipped with and without winglets. UPS currently operates forty-nine of the widebody Airbus Freighters and eighty-four of the widebody Boeing 767-300 Freighters and has an additional four aircraft on order. The A300 can accommodate a total of twenty-nine positions of freight and has a maximum payload of 121,300#’s. The Boeing 767-300 can accommodate a total of thirty-one positions of freight and has a maximum payload of 132,200#’s.

Amazon Air was founded in 2015 and has operated out of Rockford since 2016 employs approximately 1,200 people and can sort up to 300,000 shipments. The Amazon ramp can accommodate up to eight aircraft and uses a mix of contracted carriers on flights in and out of Rockford. These airlines include ATSG Holdings (ABX Air and Air Transport International) and Atlas Air using a mix of Boeing 767-200 and 300 series widebody freighters. On the day of my visit both types were seen with ABX Air having a Boeing 767-281BDSF painted in their house colors operating a flight to Phoenix AZ. The -200 series 767 Freighter can accommodate 20 positions of freight and has a payload of 99,000#’s. Air Transport International (ATI) had a pair of -300 series Freighters at Rockford this day a Boeing 767-332ERDSF and a Boeing 767-323ERBDSF, these 767’s can accommodate up to 26 positions of freight on the main deck and up to 15 positions in the belly with a maximum payload of 121,00#’s. Atlas Air had a Boeing 767-306ERBCF at Rockford on this day, their 767-300 Freighters can accommodate up to 24 positions of freight on the main deck and up to 24 positions in the belly with a maximum payload of 116,800#’s.

Rockford has grown steadily over the years to become the 13th largest cargo airport in the United States, according to FAA data Rockford had 3.4 billion pounds of landed weight in 2022. One airline that contributes to that landed weight is Maersk Air Cargo which operates Boeing 767-300F’s operated by Miami based Amerijet International Airlines. Maersk Air operates out of the newly constructed 50,000 square foot building number 3 at the Rockford International Cargo Center. Several other cargo airlines also operate out of the Rockford International Airport Cargo Center and include Atlas Air (Non-Amazon related flights), Air Atlanta Icelandic and many others. On the day of my visit Maersk was the only other cargo airline seen.

After a few hours photographing arrivals and departures our tour moved on to the massive AAR Maintenance Facility which is located next to the International Cargo Center. AAR is currently doing maintenance work on United Airlines fleet of narrowbody Boeing 737 series aircraft, with several aircraft seen in and outside of its hangers during my visit. AAR occupies 2, 10 story tall, 238,000 square foot hangers that are three hundred feet by three hundred feet and can accommodate 8 Boeing 737 aircraft at a time or 2 Airbus A380 aircraft fully enclosed. AAR opened their Rockford facility in 2016 and employs over 350 aviation mechanics performing everything from heavy maintenance checks to aircraft modifications. No photography was allowed inside the hangers themselves.

Please note: The photo of the AAR Hangers is a file photo from 3 years ago.
The United Airlines 737-8 MAX is a file photo from Chicago O’Hare, this aircraft was in the AAR Hanger the day of our tour.
Our tour moved on to Code 1 Aviation, the award-winning maintenance and restoration facility focused on the Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatross aircraft. Code 1 Aviation was formed in 2012 down in Lakeland Florida and opened its facility in Rockford in 2015. Code 1 offers a one stop shop for warbird owners, and potential warbird owners offering maintenance services, restoration services, parts, training, and aircraft sales services. Code 1’s L-39 Specialists have over one hundred years of combined experience working with the L-39 but also other warbird types as well. The Name “Code 1” is derived from a military aviation term for an aircraft that is in perfect condition and is ready to fly with no discrepancies. It exemplifies the perfection and high level of quality we try to bring to everything we do. Code 1 had several L-39’s in their hanger during our visit, but like AAR did not allow photography in the hanger itself. They did have a few L-39’s on their ramp which we could photograph with no concerns. We made one final stop on our tour and that was at the Airport Fire Station, which is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 day a week, 365 days a year by Firefighters from Pro-Tec Fire Services. The Airport Fire Department has four pieces of ARFF (Aircraft Resue and Fire Fighting) equipment on strength including three Oshkosh Striker vehicles.

Our tour wrapped up after a beautiful day weather-wise as we returned to the terminal. Rockford continues to grow both cargo wise and passenger wise with Allegiant Airlines announcing new service to Los Angeles and Nashville this year. Rockford is very spotter friendly with plenty of spots to stop and catch the action. A very special thank you to the Chicago Airport Watch Board, the Chicago Rockford International Airport Administration, and our expert tour guide and friend David Charles Lindberg for making this tour possible. Until next time, “Blue Skies To All!”

Scott Jankowski

Scott Jankowski - Franklin, Wisconsin Like so many others my love of aviation started when I was young, very young. I was only three years old when my Parents took me to my first air show here in Milwaukee, the rest you could say is “history”. I would read aviation magazines instead of Comic Books. I would prefer my Dad take me to the airport to watch airplanes instead of throwing a Football around. I grew up watching Convair 580’s, DC9’s and 727’s from the terminal here in Milwaukee, no Stage Three noise compliance back then! I started to seriously take pictures in the Mid 1980’s , for my birthday that year I finally had my first decent camera. I would head down to the airport with my pockets full of Kodak Film and take pictures of anything and everything. It did not matter if it was a Air Wisconsin Dash-7 or a 128TH ARW KC-135E if it had an engine I took a picture of it. I would drop those rolls off to be developed and three days later tear into the envelopes to see the results, which to be honest were not that good but there were a few keepers every once and a while. Fast forwarding to today with much better equipment and skills I spend as much time as I can at both General Mitchell International and Chicago O’Hare which are my Hometown Airports. While times and aircraft have changed the excitement is still as great as it was back all of those years ago. It makes no difference if it is 737, P-51, F-16, or Lear 35 I will not pass on any photo opportunity as you may not get that chance again. Even though my primary focus is on Commercial Aviation I still frequent as many Air shows as I can in the short Summer Season. I am fortunate enough to have EAA Air Venture in my backyard only being only an Hour and Half from my home. I routinely attend Air shows here in Milwaukee, Rockford, Chicago, Ypsilanti and the Quad Cities. I am very fortunate to be part of the Photorecon.Net and PHX Spotters Team and am looking forward to bringing everyone some Air show and Airliner action from the Midwest Region!

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