Lockdown boom for UK’s biggest dedicated cargo airport

The UK's biggest dedicated air cargo operation has outperformed all expectations during lockdown. Management at East Midlands Airport said more people ordering goods online had led to a big rise in freight shipments to the UK. At the same time the nationwide cut in passenger flights - which usually carry freight in their holds - had led to growing demand for the airport's freight-only flights.

The Leicestershire airport's operators have seen a year-on-year increase of goods going through it - despite the pandemic. While airports in other parts of the country saw air traffic movements reduce by 90 per cent and over at the height of lockdown, East Midlands continued operating around 60 per cent of all scheduled flights - at one point making it one of Europe's top 10 busiest airports. That was due to its established global freight operations and role as a major hub for express freight giants such as UPS, FedEx and Royal Mail.

In the last two years, more than GBP200 million has been invested in handling facilities at the airport by the world's largest logistics companies, establishing it as the UK's busiest and most important airport for dedicated cargo planes, carrying just cargo and no passengers. It typically handles 370,000 tonnes of cargo a year. Management said the impact of lockdown had "turbo-charged" the shift to online shopping - with Office for National Statistics figures suggesting the 19 per cent year-on-year growth reported pre-lockdown in February had risen to almost 33 per cent in April.

In July and August, traditionally the quieter time of year for air cargo, volumes at the Castle Donington airport were up 21.2 per cent and 18.5 per cent respectively. A spokesman said that with many airlines scaling back long-haul passenger operations in recent months, the availability of belly-hold capacity has reduced significantly to key markets, especially on popular routes to the US. During June, July and August there was an average of 60 additional cargo flights to and from East Midlands Airport and the US and, most notably, a 120 per cent increase in the volume of goods travelling between it and JFK airport in New York.

These volumes are more even than it would normally expect in the weeks leading up to Christmas - traditionally the busiest time of year for dedicated air cargo and express freight airlines. Aboudy Nasser, group aviation director for parent company the Manchester Airports Group, said there had been a "seismic shift" in the way people shop and travel. He said: "While much has been made of the changes to the way people travel, behind the scenes our airports have been leading the charge in helping the logistics sector adapt to rising demand for dedicated air cargo and changes in the way goods are transported.

"This underlines the vital role MAG airports play in supporting the UK economy as it gets back on its feet, and the critical role of air cargo in moving essential products quickly across the globe. "We look forward to continuing our work with this important sector as it prepares itself for ever-increasing demand in the months ahead." Scott Knowles, chief executive of the East Midlands Chamber of Commerce, said: "The East Midlands has, for centuries, been the epicentre of UK trade.

"Massively important to all of this is East Midlands Airport which sits at the heart of the UK's thriving logistics sector. "The airport is not only an important asset in its own right, but its impact is felt across the whole of the East Midlands, and beyond. "Thousands of people are employed in businesses that support the airport's operation and thousands more jobs are being created in neighbouring developments.

"As we all look forward to a post-Covid revival, the sectors that have continued to flourish during the pandemic are the ones around which a new economy will be built.

"The airport, and the logistics operations it facilitates, will be key to our region's recovery."

You may also like...