St. Louis on the Air
5:42 pm
Wed November 27, 2013

What's Next For Lambert - St. Louis International Airport?

The week of Thanksgiving is one of the busiest weeks of the year for Lambert - St. Louis International Airport, as travelers make their way home for the holidays.

But movement of another sort is also going on at Lambert - a dual push to both make the airport a stronger economic engine for the region and a more inviting entry-point for the city.

A discussion about Lambert – St. Louis International Airport and its role in economic development and as a place where visitors to St. Louis are welcomed.

Airport As Economic Driver

"We're the largest airport operation in the state of Missouri," said airport director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge. "We have 13 million people a year that we bring in and out of this airport. That's a significant amount of revenue.... When you look at the competition that it puts us in, in terms of being able to attract new business, it absolutely is one of the greatest assets in the region. And we just, I think, as a community, need to pull together and understand how we make it a better asset."

"Without the effective movement of people and goods, we don't have the full complement of resources and infrastructure to offer companies that may consider St. Louis as an option from which to do business," said Tim Nowak, executive director of World Trade Center St. Louis.

According to Hamm-Niebruegge, bringing more air cargo to Lambert is key to driving more economic activity, as well as increasing the number of passenger flights. Having more cargo would lower the landing fee for airlines, making St. Louis a more attractive location for passenger flights as well as cargo flights to land.

Although lack of a tax incentives ground initial China Hub efforts to a halt, the larger idea of Lambert as an international cargo hub lives on.

"Now it's the Midwest Hub Commission" said the chairman of the commission and the president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dan Mehan.  "While it [the China Hub] didn't end up bringing consistent, reliable flights in and out of China to St. Louis, but it put St. Louis and the region on the world stage for that. It's something that's still alive, but the marketing has shifted from trying to just establish that air bridge to China, to be open for other opportunities, whether they be from South America, Europe or Asia."

Mexico Customs Approval

Recent efforts have shifted to Latin America, in fact. For the past year, Lambert has been looking into becoming a customs approval center for Mexico.

"What it would essentially do is allow all cargo that is currently leaving the U.S. going into Mexico to come through this facility," said Hamm-Niebruegge. "The numbers coming in and out of Mexico are great, and they are getting stronger and stronger every day. Especially with the auto industry, we see a lot of movement of the parts going to and from the Detroit area, and we're a perfect pathway for that."

It's a growing country that we're doing trade with, both in terms of imports and exports," she added. "And we'd be the first in the country to have the air cargo piece of it, so we think it would really put us on the map."

Passenger Experience

The airport is also undergoing changes to make it a more welcoming entry-point for travelers. Art has been added, and there have been changes to parking, Wi-Fi, and restaurant options.

The Magic House is also in the process of adding an interactive exhibit for children at Lambert with a transportation theme.

"It's a chance to burn up a lot of energy before they have to sit still for a long time," said Magic House communications director Carrie Hutchcraft.

This story is part of How We Move, an ongoing series on transportation and infrastructure in the St. Louis Region. Have an idea for a story for the series? Email us at news@stlpublicradio.org.

St. Louis on the Air provides discussion about issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kristin Torres and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh.

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