Monday, May 24, 2010

Plane Stupid Protest Against Air Freight Is Just That

Figures Don't Bear Out Protestors Claims
Shipping News Feature

UK – Today saw a protest by six members of the ‘Plane Stupid’ group who cut through the perimeter fence at Manchester Airport before chaining themselves to the undercarriage of a Monarch Airlines plane in a remote part of the field. Others in the group are reported to have demonstrated in front of the freight terminal, adjacent to the M56, scheduled for expansion next year.

The aircraft was adorned with a banner reading, "More air freight more climate change. Stop all airport expansion now" and the invasion caused closure of the airport for twenty minutes. The protestors are seemingly oblivious to the parlous state of the cargo market at present. Figures bandied about in the media claim air freight totals through the Manchester facility for last year were around 170,000 tonnes with a target of increasing throughput by a further 80,000 tonnes per annum by 2015.

The latest figures we have show in 2008 the tonnages for shipping import and export cargo combined was below 142,000 tonnes, a drop of 14% on the previous year. Overall in the whole of the UK tonnages in 2008 were around 2.28 million tonnes down 2% against 2007, and only an increase of 96,000 tonnes, or less than 4% on the 1999 totals. Passenger numbers in the same period rose from around 150 million to 235 million, a 56% jump, equivalent to around an extra 400,000 flights. As we have stated before air freight accounts for only one half of a percent of UK international cargo movements, but 25% of the value of goods actually moved.

The idea which protestors, such as this group, have that they are saving the planet by clamping down on air freight in the UK is somewhat misguided. Of course air travel is a major polluter, although a drop in the ocean compared to the volcanic ash pollution currently affecting European air traffic. Protests targeted at individual sites do nothing to interrupt the flow of freight traffic, merely diverting it to hubs untroubled by such actions, often with a higher environmental cost.

Exporters and importers alike are never likely to use air freight in the face of any viable alternatives. Air cargo transport has the advantage of speed set against a much higher freight tariff for virtually all commodities. As was seen in the recent suspension of services due to the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud, alternative methods were already being used wherever possible with express courier services profiting during an unusual market where higher than normal costs could be imposed to ensure service levels.

Much of the UK’s air traffic, freight and passenger alike, comes due to its ability to offer a hub for transhipment or passenger transfer. To suspend or constrict these services will merely mean exporting the work to other European airports such as Schiphol.