Growing Dulles International Airport as a cargo hub may start with flowers

April 14, 2012

These things take time, and a lot of money. But perhaps the effort starts small: with flowers.

In February, Dulles welcomed the first shipment of Hypericum flowers from Ethiopia — nearly two tons delivered by Ethiopian Airlines. The highlands of Ethiopia are a world hotspot for the budding flower market, thanks to its elevation, soil quality and weather conditions.

The flower shipments have continued weekly ever since.

Ethiopian Airlines, MWAA officials say, could have delivered those flowers to Kennedy Airport in New York or Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, the major East Coast cargo players. But it chose Dulles, ranked the 19th largest cargo airport in North America, according to the Airports Council International.

The ultimate goal of the Dulles air cargo initiative is to diversify Loudoun’s economy, generate greater airport landing fees for MWAA, create jobs and perhaps lure high-value manufacturing and pharmaceutical firms to Northern Virginia.

Dulles has the acreage to grow. It is strategically located in the middle of the eastern seaboard. And it has the international passenger flights, many with significant unused capacity in the belly to support an abundance of cargo.

But that doesn’t happen unless Dulles can draw in more product to both import and export. Maybe it has already started, with a rose.