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The UK’s most important air cargo gateway, Heathrow, is set to see a significant expansion of its freight handling capacity via an £180m investment announced today.

Heathrow Holding chief executive John Holland-Kaye told delegates at a British Chambers of Commerce international trade conference this morning that the airport had drawn up a 15-year investment plan that would, effectively, double the cargo volumes moving through the airport.

“Cargo is essential for UK PLC and Heathrow is its global freight connector, with 26% of all UK goods by value going through the airport,” he said. “This investment plan will significantly improve our cargo facilities and support British businesses to keep the economy moving, connecting exporters to the world and helping the government reach its £1trn export target by 2020,” he said.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye


Much of the plan revolves around redesigning the freight handling facilities at the “horseshoe” area of the airport, “to reduce congestion and smoother processes, all enabling freight to flow better through the airport and halving process time from eight-to-nine hours to four hours”.

Plans include the improvement of air-to-air transit through the creation of a facility on the airfield, which will enable smoother handling of transhipment cargo that “arrives by air and is due to fly out by air”. This, Mr Holland-Kaye claimed, would shorten connection times from the current average of over six hours

Heathrow has also pledged to become 100% ‘e-freight ready and to build a new truck parking area with improved facilities for drivers.

More contentious is the proposal to create a specialist pharmaceuticals storage area to support airlines moving high-value temperature-sensitive medicines, despite the fact that many in the local freight community say there is little demand for such a facility.

The Freight Transport Association’s (FTA) director of global and European policy, Chris Welsh, said: “Heathrow’s planned investment and increased freight capacity is exactly the type of commitment that 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.”

FTA policy director Chris Welsh

FTA policy director Chris Welsh


And he argued that more pharma capacity would be needed at Heathrow.

“Time-sensitive goods such as medicines rely on air freight transport and can’t realistically travel any other way. There have 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,” he said.

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  • John Roberts

    November 03, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    This all sounds great and I can’t wait to see what they replace the horseshoe with.
    I wonder what advantage transit air freight is to Britain other than maybe some handling work at the airport. I can’t see any advantage for UK forwarders or truckers, any new jobs being created, an increase in tax or any benefit to surrounding area which will have to put up with more freight flying in and out.

    • Gary Kendall

      November 04, 2015 at 2:35 pm

      The advantage of creating a global hub airport with transit and transfer capabilities, has huge value for all player working within the UK market.

      An aircraft is an equation of what sits on top and what sits underneath, the failure to get the sums right are the difference on whether a carrier operates a route, or the number of rotations, the more traffic a airline receives the greater the viability. More aircraft more landing fees more jobs in the local economy

      Whilst as a forwarder yu see not direct return to the bottom line, your organisation is given a greater pool of choice, which in turn leads to competition, so a benefit.

      In addition the some handling work leads to new jobs and new opportunities in handling, ramp operations, transit shed etc

      None of this will happen overnight, we are thirty years behind, and we are years away from them laying the tarmac for the third runway.

      We the community need to communicate our need for rapid change and development, look at the back Heathrow web page and join the campaign