Port of Entry: George Bush Intercontinental Airport (Cargo) Economic Impact, 2015

Texas' location, geography and diverse economy offer unique trade opportunities with other states and countries. Texas has a number of ports of entry, including seaports, inland ports and border crossings, which facilitate the movement of imports and exports. Texas ports of entry contribute to the state and local economies, each in a very distinctive way.

The state of Texas accounted for more than $631 billion in international trade in 2015. Of the total, $71.1 billion or 11.3 percent arrived or departed by air through the state's air/multimodal ports with Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) accounting for 21.4 percent of this amount, or about $15 billion.1

Based on the Comptroller's analysis, the net benefit of trade associated with the IAH port of entry includes an estimated 38,000 net jobs to Texas and a minimum of $5.4 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) to the Texas economy.2 (The Comptroller acknowledges there may be other economic activities directly and indirectly associated with the use of this facility that may not be reflected here.)

The Houston IAH "Air Port"

IAH opened in 1969 with two terminals on 6,000 acres. Since that time, the city of Houston has grown rapidly, and that growth has been reflected at IAH. Today, Houston is the nation's fourth largest city while IAH covers 11,000 acres with five passenger terminals. Each day, IAH serves more than 117,000 passengers and handles more than 1,100 metric tons of cargo.3

IAH cargo operations include two separate cargo areas, the original IAH Central Cargo facility and the newer, 120-acre IAH CargoCenter, which opened in 2003.4 IAH cargo operations all have access to the airport's five runways, which can accommodate any cargo aircraft including the world's largest, the Antonov AN-2255. IAH cargo operations include:6

  • a cargo operational warehouse and office space of more than 1 million square feet;
  • runways up to 12,000 feet long and 24/7 service;
  • the IAH Perishables Center for time and temperature-sensitive freight;
  • a fumigation center and a full-service U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal/Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) center on site;
  • access to all federal inspection agencies involved in cargo processing in a single location;
  • coverage by General Purpose Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) #84;
  • no weight restrictions; and
  • 60,000 square feet of apron space, enough room for up to 20 Boeing 747 cargo aircraft.

Economic Data

In total, cargo activity at IAH accounted for $15 billion in international trade in 2015, an increase of 111 percent from 2003 ($7 billion).7 In 2015, IAH handled more than 429,000 metric tons of freight, ranking 18th in the nation and 59th in the world for trade tonnage. This represented a 15.3 percent increase from 2009 (373,000 metric tons).8 Of cargo handled at IAH in 2015, more than 208,000 metric tons (about 459 million pounds) were imports or exports.9

More than 50 employees at the Houston Airport System are directly involved in air cargo operations at IAH. A 2011 study by GRA Inc. found that 2009 air cargo operations at IAH directly supported 2,528 jobs generating more than $110.8 million in income.10

FTZ #84, which includes IAH, encompasses business operations inside and outside the actual IAH boundaries including areas throughout Harris County and along the Houston Ship Channel. It includes almost 200 firms employing more than 17,300 people. FTZ #84 ranks first nationally in total merchandise received and eighth in exports.11 The portion of FTZ #84 within IAH, "Site 14," covers 22 acres."12

In Texas, IAH ranks second behind Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport for cargo, aircraft and passengers. For aircraft movements, IAH ranks eighth nationally and ninth in the world. For passengers, IAH ranks 12th nationally and 30th in the world.

IAH Operations, 2013 – 2015
Year Total Cargo (Freight and Mail) in Metric Tons (international and domestic) Aircraft Movements (landing & takeoff) Passengers*
2015 429,785 (48.5% international) 502,844 43,026,224
2014 461,492 499,802 41,239,700
2013 426,805 496,908 39,799,414

*Arriving and departing passengers and direct transit passengers each counted once.
Source: Airports Council International

The IAH port of entry has a diverse trading network, with only 22.3 percent of trade traversing the port involving its top two trading countries (Germany and the Netherlands). The two trading partners each represent less than 12 percent of its total trade. The next two largest partners, Great Britain and China, account for only 8 percent each.

  • Top origination/destination for goods: Germany; the Netherlands
  • Top Imports through IAH: electronics; industrial machinery; perishables
  • Top Exports through IAH: industrial machinery; aircraft components; electronics
IAH Trade Value, 2013-2015
  Overall Trade ($ billions) Trade with Germany & the Netherlands ($ billions)
Year Total Trade Exports (only) Imports (only) Total Trade Total Trade % Exports (only) Imports (only)
2015 $15.22 $9.31 $5.90 $3.39 22.27% $1.82 $1.57
2014 $18.83 $10.08 $8.75 $3.43 18.21% $1.74 $1.69
2013 $17.23 $9.60 $7.64 $3.12 18.09% $1.76 $1.36

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

IAH serves a dozen all-cargo airlines, including Cargolux, UPS, Air France Cargo and China Airlines Cargo. Recently, AirBridgeCargo Airlines began offering Boeing 747-8 all-cargo service from IAH to Luxembourg, Abu Dhabi and Moscow. Twenty-two regularly scheduled all-cargo international flights arrive weekly, in addition to numerous chartered flights, as well as other cargo arriving on passenger flights.13

Federal Customs District Growth

IAH cargo operations is part of the larger Houston-Galveston Customs District, which includes the area stretching along the Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi to Galveston, and inland from Freeport northward to IAH. With $193 billion in trade, the Houston-Galveston District relies heavily on seaports for its trade volume and in 2015 ranked first in the U.S. for cargo volume, at 249 million metric tons.14

Texas has 29 official ports of entry that serve as critical gateways to global trade. Each port, whether accessible via air, land or sea, serves a variety of domestic and international economic activity across multiple industries. The high quality of Texas' ports has a significant impact internationally as well as across the state from its largest cities to the most rural counties. Texas ports play an important role in the state's transportation network, as each directly contributes to and thus affects the entire transportation system. Texas ports contribute to the overall strength and diversity of the Texas economy, which ranks 10th in GDP when compared to other nations.15