Sunday, February 14, 2010

Air Freight In The UK - A Review Of Regional Cargo Airports

Growing Casualty List Indicates the Demise of a Cottage Industry
Shipping News Feature

UK – Researching the background for a piece on the development of small, local air traffic centres can prove to be a depressing task. A list of homely British towns and villages, each containing airstrips, many of which were developed during and following World War II, once seemed to promise a bright future as the pulse of freight and passenger transport quickened into the 1980’s and 90’s. Sadly now a litany of failed ventures bear witness to abandoned schemes stymied by over ambition or local and Government planning constraints.

Critics will be quick to point to the fact that some freight still moves through these smaller centres but they have certainly suffered, along with the rest of the shipping industry, and many have even lost the small niche markets which used to be their bread and butter. Southend is set for a revival but is meeting some bitter local opposition and, like so many others, will always look toward a future handling more passenger traffic with its added economic benefits. Much of its old Channel Island trade has ended up at Bournemouth which still maintains some regular trade as well as ad hoc cargo flights. Leeds Bradford have accepted that the decline in shipments they have suffered in the last twelve years or so is likely to be the status quo for the foreseeable future.

This week sees a possible light on the horizon for at least two such sites, Coventry Airport and Durham Tees Valley Airport both of whom are hoping that freight shipments may begin to pass across their runways in the near future, albeit in small quantities initially. Paul Bradley, Managing Director of Camair Freight Solutions told us:

“We are the last remaining forwarder at Durham Tees Valley and there has been no worthwhile freight movement through here in the past ten years. We intend to work to improve the airfreight services for local businesses in the Durham and North Yorkshire areas and, with this is mind have been in discussion with KLM for the past few months to reintroduce cargo services for an initial trial period of six months.

“There are possibilities for the swifter transfers for items such as vital ships stores and we are looking to local businesses and freight forwarders to encourage the growth of the service, which we feel is needed in this area.”

KLM envisage a useful link to their international services via Schiphol. Fresh fish produce from the North East Yorkshire ports could be flown worldwide with minimal delays and the Tees Valley itself has a healthy petro chemical industry.

The airport was to be home of the Skylink Business Park project, an ambitious scheme to rejuvenate the areas transport infrastructure and provide a million square feet of warehousing space but the airports owners, Peel Holdings, who number Peel Ports and Manchesters Trafford Centre amongst their assets, could not advise us of when or if the development would be proceeding. Peel Airports, who also own Liverpool’s John Lennon and Doncaster – Sheffield Robin Hood airports would obviously be keen to see a resurgence of freight traffic through their facility. In the last few days however the weblink to the Skylink Project seems to have been removed from the Peel Group website.

Meanwhile plans for Coventry Airport suffered a major setback this week and await confirmation that the proposed takeover by the Swiss company, Airport Development Partners, who are a subsidiary of US based investment firm Westcore has been cancelled. ADP specialise in refunding regional European airports, a long term strategy which is even better served by their tailoring of refinancing the facilities individually for each project. Coventry is currently owned by the local City Council and they would no doubt relish the renewed competition for business with neighbours Birmingham and East Midlands airports. Our approaches to ADP for a statement on Friday came to nothing and today the BBC reports today state the deal is in fact off.

Former owners CAFCO had permission to develop permanent terminal and passenger facilities refused by the UK Government in 2007 and that signalled its demise and leading to its closure in December after the Civil Aviation Authority through NATS issued Notices to Airmen (NOTAM) stating closure of the air traffic zone and revoking the sites licence. Prior to operating again future owners will need to satisfy the CAA and presumably local planning officers that the site is fit to return to full service. It is thought that these hurdles, coupled with the cost of refurbishing the facilities to an acceptable level are likely to have spiked the deal. Therefore despite much positive press reports that a local firm are looking to take over the site remain just speculation at the moment.

Photo: Coventry Airport Runway.