Livestock Shipments Figure Prominently in Growth Plans for St. Louis Lambert Int’l

Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge

Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge
has been the director of St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) since January 2010. STL is the primary air carrier facility for the St. Louis region, serving nearly 16 million passengers annually.

In a recent edition of this magazine, you may have come across an announcement about a new facility at St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) serving as a point of origin for live animal shipments to Brazil. With population growth continuing around the world, the global need for breeding stock has created an important export opportunity for the United States. As our airport team watched this trend grow in recent years, it prompted us to consider STL as a viable option for these charters.

Like other airports, we are always looking for creative revenue streams that can leverage our infrastructure as an economic engine—not only for the airport, but for the wider regional/statewide footprint as well. At STL, we are located in the center of the United States and have a magnificent runway system that is not used to full capacity. Furthermore, Missouri and the surrounding states produce a large percentage of the nation’s livestock. Looking at all these attributes, it became clear that specialized air cargo must be part of the future focus for STL.

In 2020, our total air cargo numbers grew to just under 185,000,000 pounds—a one-year increase of 26 million pounds, or 16.5%. This was the fifth straight year of increasing cargo tonnage, with double-digit increases in two of those years. DHL, FedEx, UPS and Amazon have all contributed to our recent growth in cargo, as well as a growing number of dedicated cargo charters. Additionally, St. Louis has become a hotspot for fulfillment centers, further adding to air cargo growth, as companies need to move products to fulfillment centers for distribution.

However, STL is still not the large player we would like to be, and there is room to grow if we enhance and foster long-term partnerships. As an airport, strategic planning is crucial and community buy-in is critical to our success. Eight years ago, our air cargo consultant helped us form a partnership with the Midwest Cargo Hub Commission to focus on cargo opportunities for our region. That partnership helped us establish a live animal inspection and embarkation center that earned approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and we continue to work with the Commission to unify our approach in growing the logistics sector within the St. Louis region.

Our USDA-approved facility spans 31,000+ square feet, with a dedicated penning area of 18,000 square feet and a 12,000-square-foot open bay with a roller and ball deck. The design is customizable and, when needed, allows shippers to move livestock directly from their vehicles into the shipping containers, which saves time and minimizes stress on the livestock. The facility is very competitive and sets STL apart from other airports. We feel strongly that it gives us an advantage for live animal shipments and will become a preferred facility in the coming months and years. Agri-business experts know that St. Louis lies in the center of a six-state area rich in livestock supply, and this becomes an important benefit when considering the proximity of an airport.

Moving livestock is a multimodal initiative, and we are one of the best connecting points in the United States for freight. St. Louis has a great waterway system, a robust rail system and four major interstate highways dissecting our city. In the midst of this multimodel logistics heaven, lies STL, the region’s largest airport and home to the above-mentioned USDA live animal port of embarkation.

In summation, these recent successes in livestock shipments are important not only to STL, but to the entire St. Louis region. We are encouraged by what we have been able to accomplish with this endeavor; but success will be measured by our ability to sustain and grow our revenue streams for air cargo. We will continue to concentrate on this effort knowing that it will provide a valuable global-economic resource for our region.

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