Air cargo: Cabin fever

More than just a hub

AFTER most Memphians have gone to bed and before they switch on their coffee-makers, around 150 jets land at Memphis International Airport and take off again. They have no passengers—just stuff. A Boeing 777 jet may feel cramped to those sardined in coach class, but with all the seats and compartments stripped out it is immense—able to carry 225,000 pounds (102 tonnes) of cargo non-stop from Tennessee to Shanghai.Such passengerless flights make Memphis the world’s second-busiest airport by cargo volume (after Hong Kong). Around 10,000 people work the FedEx overnight shift, sorting around 1.5m packages.Memphis calls itself America’s “aerotropolis,” referring to the title of a 2011 book by John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay. The book argues that cities of the future, and their economies, will increasingly be built around airports.Memphis has a downtown, of course, but just its air-cargo operations produced a total economic output in its past financial year of roughly $22.1 billion and supported over 132,000 jobs. Louisville, Kentucky—home to the hub of FedEx’s chief rival, UPS—has a similar story. In 2011 its two airports…

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