Cargo and Logistics Sector

Sound Moves – Sound Use of Logistics

Heathrow cargo facilities need expanding, says freight industry 

London is known as one of the world’s main centres of business, but it could lose its international hub status if more is not done to expand the freight capacity and facilities at Heathrow airport.

This view is shared by a number of industry voices, with the Freight Transport Association (FTA) backing the recent Aviation Strategy report from the House of Commons Transport Committee. It rejected plans for a new Thames Estuary Airport, but also claimed that improvements need to be made at Heathrow so that imports and exports can flow freely through the UK’s doors.

The FTA supplied evidence to the committee back in January which stated that because of its location close to London, Heathrow was the only airport in the UK which could fulfil the vital role which it currently does.

It was noted that Heathrow plays a very important part in connecting UK businesses, goods and passengers to destinations around the world, which thus supports trade in this country. Furthermore, when it comes to competing on an international scale Heathrow stands head and shoulders above other regional airports within the UK.
For these reasons it was suggested by the FTA that Heathrow should be allowed to expand so that a third runway could be constructed. Despite the evidence, the committee did not “fully consider” the importance of freight in its report, according to the FTA, which promoted its contribution to the economy and wider aviation sector.

Chris Welsh, general manager of global and European policy at the FTA, said that the organisation welcomes the headline findings from the committee, but the issue of Heathrow being full to capacity needs to be addressed.
“The committee is correct to draw attention to the poor surface access by road and rail to London’s airports, and given that Heathrow is the busiest freight airport in the country, and so much economic activity relies upon air freight across the UK, it is critical to economic recovery that the nation can demonstrate it is open for business with a smooth and reliable journey from our international gateways,” he added.

“It is just a little disappointing that the importance of air freight is somewhat underplayed, and we would encourage the government to work with industry to fully understand the importance of air freight to the UK economy.”

At the launch of the report, Louise Ellman, chair of the committee, conceded that aviation was “vital to our economy” and it was essential for the UK to maintain its status as an international hub which offers connectivity to a wide range of destinations around the world.

“We looked closely at the three main options by which the UK could increase its hub airport capacity. Research we commissioned made plain that building an entirely new hub airport east of London could not be done without huge public investment in new ground transport infrastructure,” she stated.

Ms Ellman went on to say that the construction of an estuary hub airport would also mean the closure of Heathrow, something which would have a massive knock-on effect to freight carriers.

She said that this would have “unacceptable consequences for individuals, businesses in the vicinity of the existing airport and the local economy”.

The committee concluded that a third runway at Heathrow was “necessary”, while a four-runway proposal also has merit if it is constructed to the west and therefore reduces noise which is experienced by homeowners who currently live underneath the flight path.
In 2011, £116 billion worth of goods were shipped by air freight between the UK and non-EU countries, according to the Aviation Policy Framework, with exports and imports going through Heathrow worth around £35 billion every year.

These figures add to the argument that connectivity with key markets has been “central to UK prosperity” for the past 300 years. This is the view of chief executive of Heathrow Colin Matthews, who added that these links are now more crucial than ever before.