Spokane International Airport handled its fourth highest volume of air cargo last year, and the highest tonnage of such shipments its seen since the record-breaking year of 2000, just before the economy soured. Observers say thats a positive indicator for the economy.
The amount of air freight and mail that passed through the airport in 2004 rose 5.6 percent, to about 57,300 tons. Thats the highest its been since 2000, when about 67,300 tons of cargo were handled by the airport, just before the slowing economy triggered much lower air-cargo shipping, says airport spokesman Todd Woodard.
Air freight equates to high-value cargo, and high-value cargo relates to high-tech manufacturing, says Randy Barcus, chief economist at Spokanes Avista Corp. High-tech manufacturing is the first to go away when the economy slows, so the increase in air cargo numbers is a good indicator that things are perking up.
After 2000, such manufacturers here as Telect Inc., Honeywell International Inc., and Agilent Technologies Inc. saw their orders plummet as the economy soured, says Barcus, adding that the falloff in such orders was a major factor in the ensuing decline in air-cargo tonnage here.
The stronger 2004 volume still ranks below the tonnages seen between 1998 and 2000, but was slightly higher than the next highest mark in 1997.
After the record year in 2000, tonnage figures here fell to about 54,200 in 2001 and dropped again to about 53,300 in 2002, before rebounding slightly to about 54,300 in 2003.
Woodard views the new air-cargo numbers as an overall reflection of the strength of the economy. A rise in Internet sales is contributing to the increase, he says.
The biggest handler of cargo at Spokane International is Federal Express, which claimed 67 percent of the market share in 2003. The next leading handler, with 13 percent of market share, was United Parcel Service.
Meanwhile, the number of passengers using the airport also is on the rise, up 9.7 percent in 2004. About 3.06 million passengers flew into and out of the airport last year, up from about 2.79 million in 2003.
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