© Giovanni Gagliardi
© Giovanni Gagliardi

Amsterdam formed one; Zurich did. Frankfurt’s got one; and now Brussels has too. So where is the UK’s air cargo community?

Frankly, it’s nowhere to be seen – and it is not looking likely to be created in the near future.

“I think a community speaking with one voice would be enormously beneficial – but I don’t see it happening,” said Nick Platts, head of cargo at Heathrow Airport, at this week’s Multimodal event in Birmingham.

“No one talks to each other in the UK. There is no collaboration.

But look at Amsterdam, it is far better at influencing government policy. Air Cargo Netherlands sets the benchmark. My great frustration in the UK is that we don’t collaborate. People have been reluctant to share data, for example, which they do in the air cargo communities elsewhere.”


The response was to a question from RFS company Van Swieten Air Cargo, whose business development manager John Kwijuka asked whether the UK should look at a country-wide community rather than an airport-specific one.

But Mr Platts said the UK market was too fragmented, and that the only likelihood would be a single airport community.

“We do need to come together, and lobby the government together. But we are not all singing from the same hymn sheet.

“But it does make sense and I will keep trying. Everything’s possible – but I haven’t seen much evidence of it happening.”

The UK’s Freight Transport Association this year decided to launch an air freight working group. It aims to set up “a clear vision and strategy for air freight”. However, it is a far cry from an air cargo community – the group plans to agree objectives and then disband, unless members see some future value. And membership primarily consists of shippers, and will reflect their needs, rather than the full spectrum of air freight companies.

“We are trying to create a united voice,” explained Alex Veitch, FTA head of global policy.

“We want to see better engagement on issues such as security, like the ban on air freight from Bangladesh. The lithium battery ban dropped almost out of nowhere.

“We want to get people to communicate through the working group. My hunch in setting this up is that there is a real need for the air freight community to speak with a more unified voice. This will help to get better cargo facilities within the air and ensure freight issues are taken into account in government policy decisions.

But one key air freight stakeholder in the UK told The Loadstar that he had little faith in the FTA’s group.

“Why hasn’t it approached key stakeholders? Who is in this group? The FTA is simply jumping on the bandwagon. We’ve had no dealings with it.”

The FTA responded that it had reached out to its members and the trade press, and has been dealing with air freight for some time. The director general of BIFA, Robert Keen, said the FTA had better government contacts than other industry bodies and was well-positioned to try to influence policy.

There are other challenges in trying to create a group, said Mark Olney, Air Canada’s general manager cargo Europe.

“You struggle now to get two airlines in the same room because of antitrust laws,” he said. “What you need is a strong voice from the national carrier – it’s much harder as a foreign carrier.”

Larry Coyne, CEO of Coyne Airways, agreed that a unified voice was needed, as the UK media tended to reflect the loudest voices, rather than the relevant ones.

“The arguments on aviation get hijacked by environmental and other considerations, which are important, but we don’t hear from anyone else. Take the new Estuary Airport idea. It was always a non-starter, but became the darling of the media. What a waste of time. Why did we not get the facts out about this?”

Neil Robinson, corporate affairs director of Manchester Airports Group, noted that its Airport City helped stakeholders come together.

“Cargo is getting a better hearing than it was. Industry stakeholders are coming together and finding common ground.”

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