Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Heathrow Airport to Double Air Cargo Throughput with New Freight Infrastructure

Major Expansion Plans Announced Forwarders to Benefit
Shipping News Feature
UK – Ever the centre of controversy as Heathrow Airport remains shrouded in fog causing the cancellation of many flights, comes the news that freight capacity at Britain’s premier air hub is to be doubled. The airport management has released plans for an infrastructure expansion which it is anticipated will smooth the flow of cargo and reduce processing times by half, to 4 hours as opposed to the current 8-9.

One of the target areas is the pharmaceutical trade and the plans include a specialist pharmaceutical storage area to support airlines moving highly valuable and temperature sensitive medicines and other goods. 95% of air cargo is carried in the belly-hold of passenger aircraft and air freight accounts for nearly 40% of UK imports and exports by value. Heathrow currently employs 39,000 people, mostly clustered in the hinterland of the airport and the facilities are critical for important sectors such as pharmaceuticals, high-end manufacturing and retailers.

Overall the details released today mean an investment of around £180 million to ‘revolutionise’ cargo facilities, processes and people, and one group which welcomed the announcement was the Freight Transport Association (FTA) which said that the proposals recognise the vital importance that air freight plays to the UK.

Previously the FTA has stated that air cargo and the essential role it plays is often overlooked, and in particular highlighted the importance of transporting pharmaceutical, high-end manufactured good and other products reliant of air freight to reach vital overseas markets, as outlined in its published document on the issue last year. Chris Welsh, FTA Director of Global and European Policy commented:

“Heathrow’s planned investment and increased freight capacity is exactly the type of commitment that the FTA has long been asking for. The significance of air freight is often overlooked, but today’s announcement illustrates that Heathrow Airport has listened very carefully to ourselves and the freight industry. The improvements it is proposing are essential to the growth and success of the UK economy.

“Time sensitive goods such as medicines rely on air freight transportation and can’t realistically travel any other way. There has long been insufficient controlled temperature arrangements to move pharmaceuticals, the proposed improvements to provide this and to accelerate implementation of e-freight is essential in halving door-to-door air cargo movements. These are vital steps to enhance the competitiveness of UK exports and to make Heathrow a world-class air cargo hub.”

Last month Britain’s most senior civil servant, Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood caused a row when he emailed Ministers asking them not to comment on the possible expansion of Heathrow and the building of a third runway, a subject which remains extremely contentious. The latest blueprint cargo expansion plans were developed with key stakeholders and announced by CEO John Holland-Kaye today, as part of a 15 year vision to invest around £180 million in revolutionising its cargo facilities, processes and people. It will be no accident that the timing coincides with the current interest in the third runway proposition.

The airport says the new scheme means freight forwarders using Heathrow will benefit from:

Air to air transit – a facility located on the airfield which will enable smoother handling of transit cargo that arrives by air and is due to fly out by air. This will shorten connection times from a current average of 6+ hours

Becoming 100% ‘e-freight ready – working with businesses, airlines, IATA, HMRC and the DfT to fully implement e-Freight at Heathrow. This reduces the need for lengthy paper work and will be one of the first airports to become 100% digital.

A new truck parking facility – a waiting area for drivers which will cater for over 100 vehicles and offer secure parking, access control, toilets/showers and dining facilities

Heathrow has developed its vision to overhaul the cargo facilities after working closely with stakeholders including freight forwarders, Government, exporters and British businesses, forming an ambition to become one of the leading European airports for cargo. These improvements will also encourage airlines to bring cargo friendly aircraft with greater freight capacity to Heathrow, which are typically more modern, greener and quieter.

Photo: An artist’s impression of the proposed third runway. Courtesy Heathrow.