The National Academies

ACRP 03-63 [Active]

Modernizing Air Cargo Operations and Infrastructure at U.S. Airports

  Project Data
Funds: $350,000
Staff Responsibility: Joseph Navarrete
Research Agency: SASI World
Principal Investigator: Mark Diamond
Effective Date: 7/29/2021
Completion Date: 1/28/2023

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), air cargo transports over $6 trillion worth of goods annually, which account for approximately 35 percent of world trade by value, making it a vital part of the supply chain. With the continued growth in e-commerce, spurred by the pandemic, many airports are experiencing increased cargo activity, including airports with limited or no cargo activity previously. Air cargo facilities, supporting infrastructure, and operations at many of the nation’s airports are inadequate, inefficient and need modernizing.
ACRP Report 143: Guidebook for Air Cargo Facility Planning and Development provided important guidelines for cargo facility development. Updates and additional research is required to address emerging trends and technologies that present potential enhancements to cargo operations, facilities, and associated infrastructure. 
The objective of this research is to develop a guidebook for airports of all types and sizes to help modernize their airport cargo facilities, processes, and operations in coordination with a variety of stakeholders. The guidebook should address the optimization of a multimodal approach to facilitate the flow of commerce and the movement of goods in coordination with on- and off-airport facilities and services, while considering constraints of surrounding local or regional transportation systems on cargo. 

The guidebook should include, but not limited to, the following considerations:  

  • Best practices in data collection to assist with cargo forecasting and on-going operations;
  • Determining the proportionate required land on or off-airport to support air cargo;
  • Planning for specialized handling and storage facilities (e.g., critical care needs, perishables, etc.);
  • How emerging technologies may impact future cargo operations and facilities (e.g., autonomous vehicles, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), blockchain, databanks, Internet of Things (IoT), etc.);
  • Emerging security technologies and related protocols;
  • Role of freight forwarders and other logistic service providers;
  • Applicability of cargo community systems within trade corridors;
  • Promoting communication and the importance of cargo to stakeholders, airport planners, and overall community planning;
  • Systemic constraints and opportunities in megaregions and their effects on cargo;
  • The latest design trends on multi-story facilities and their potential to alleviate land availability concerns;
  • Opportunities and barriers to integrate sustainable features into cargo facility development and operations, including subsequent cost savings (e.g., transportation electrification, zero net energy facilities, etc.);
  • International facility benchmarking; and
  • Financing alternatives for cargo development.



The ACRP is seeking the insights of proposers on how best to achieve the research objective. Proposers are asked to develop and include a detailed research plan for accomplishing the project objective. Proposers are expected to describe research plans that can realistically be accomplished within the constraints of available funds and contract time. Proposals must present the proposers' current thinking in sufficient detail to demonstrate their understanding of the issues and the soundness of their approach to meeting the research objective. The work proposed must be divided into tasks and proposers must describe the work proposed in each task in detail.

The research plan should include appropriate deliverables, for ACRP approval, that include at a minimum:

1.   Develop 3-4 case studies that best represents the successful implementation of emerging technologies and systems including domestic and international examples.
2. An interim report that describes work done in early tasks, an annotated outline of the guidebook, and an updated work plan for remaining tasks.  All of this should demonstrate to the panel the thought process behind how the final deliverables will address the considerations outlined in the objective.
The research plan should include other appropriate checkpoints with the ACRP panel, including at a minimum (1) a kick-off teleconference meeting to be held within 1 month of the Notice to Proceed and (2) one face-to-face interim deliverable review meeting, as well as web-enabled teleconferences tied to the panel review and ACRP approval of other interim deliverables deemed appropriate. 
The final deliverables will include: (1) a guidebook including a checklist of considerations for facility planning that meets the requirements as stated in the objective and any updates from ACRP Report 143; (2) a standalone executive summary, inclusive of graphics, that conveys the highlights of the guidebook; and (3) (a) a Summary of Key Findings; (b) a Further Recommended Research Memo (see Special Note D); and (c) a technical memo titled, “Implementation of Research Findings and Products”.

SASI World has commenced the research. 

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