manchester © Valentin Armianu
© Valentin Armianu

European competitors will leave the UK behind if the heavy reliance on Heathrow for air freight connections continues, claims its major rival.

Head of cargo at Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which owns East Midlands, Manchester and Stansted, Conan Busby, told The Loadstar there was a very real potential the UK could cede ground to international gateways if it did not act swiftly, and he appealed to forwarders to consider other UK airports.

“The country cannot sit still and wait for Heathrow to get its third runway, the airport is already becoming constrained,” said Mr Busby.

“If it does that it will lose ground and its dominant position – and the UK is dominant in this sector. Instead the UK must use all its available assets.”

He explained: “What you must remember is that, while the bulk of air freight flies into Heathrow, the final destination is likely to be further afield. Forwarders can save a lot of time and resources by linking their shipments more directly to airports closer to final destinations.”

Mr Busby said that while domestic competition remained, the biggest threat came from European airports like Liege, which last year reported a 21.5% increase in volumes (up to 870,644 tonnes).

Chief executive of the Belgian gateway Luc Partoune said the result was a new record.

“Since we were established in 1990, we have never achieved such a level of tonnage, and it confirms we are on the right track with our strategy to go with full-cargo companies,” he said .

“The arrival of new companies and the performance and exceptional growth achieved by all our operators contributed to positioning us among the best cargo airports worldwide.”

Over the next two years, he added, Liege would add 30,000sq metres of warehousing to its operations, with all-carrier AirBridgeCargo set to take advantage of the new space.

The pace of growth at Liege highlights his concerns over the reliance on Heathrow, said Mr Busby.

“The UK needs to make better use of all its infrastructure, and at MAG we are trying to attract more businesses to our three gateways, which all offer significant cargo connectivity.

“Manchester has a number of new services from Jet, Ethiopian, Cathay Pacific and Hainan, not to mention all the North American carriers.”

Mr Busby said he wants MAG to work more with forwarders and show them the benefits of utilising gateways beyond Heathrow.

He added that MAG’s operations were “geared up for full-freighter operations”, with 95% of cargo handled at Stansted and all the cargo at East Midlands coming on freighters.

“East Midlands’ expertise is in the express sector,” he said. “We have all the big express operators sending their flights there and they are investing heavily in enhancing their capacities to support further growth. This is in line with our goal to handle 1m tonnes of cargo annually by 2040.”

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