New UK government must support airports’ cargo capacity growth

Source: Heathrow Airports Limited

The incoming UK government must do more to increase cargo capacity at UK airports if the economy is to grow, trade body Aviation Services UK (ASUK) has stressed ahead of next week’s General Election.

The UK economy is dependent upon competitiveness in, and connectivity to, international markets and therefore aviation plays a key role in delivering growth, said ASUK.

David Leighton, chief executive at ASUK, commented: “New infrastructure is urgently needed. Heathrow’s delayed expansion is directly holding back economic growth, as the loss of ad-hoc freighter slots demonstrates.

“Freight – whether moving by air, land, or sea – is the lifeblood of our economy, but the arteries that carry that lifeblood have been clogging up for decades. This is most severe in aviation, where lack of capacity is biting hard.

“The industry’s shared commitment to decarbonisation, in part enabled by the adoption of Sustainable Aviation Fuel, underlines why it’s time to reinvigorate the case for sustainable airport expansion.”

Heathrow Airport said on its website that its “plans for expansion with a third runway to the north-west of the existing two are currently supported by Government policy through the Airports National Policy Statement”.

Leighton commented as ASUK published its ‘Priorities for Government’ document looking at problems and solutions in the UK aviation sector.

In the report, the trade body said that to address the “sudden and dramatic loss of slots” for freighters at Heathrow and other airports in the southeast of the UK, action needs to be taken to “create a protected pool of slots for cargo-only flights”.

To address insufficient suitable capacity at airports outside the southeast that has resulted in more freight travelling greater distances by road, reform of how slots are allocated should be accelerated with strengthened regulatory oversight by the Civil Aviation Authority, noted the the report.

The document further said that supply chains have been disrupted and this has highlighted the UK’s strategic vulnerability and competitive weakness. The report’s suggestion is that there should be investment in extra capacity through airspace modernisation and focus on investment in new airport infrastructure.

Leighton said: “Against a backdrop of rising demand for air travel, lack of capacity will continue to present a significant challenge for any government that stresses the importance of growing the economy.

“As long as capacity constraints endure, a protected pool of slots available for cargo-only flights is essential.

“The system of allocating slots is in need of urgent reform, and there is a compelling case for enhanced regulatory oversight to guard the strategic national interest.”

He pointed out that limited capacity is making the UK’s supply chains more vulnerable to disruption, which also reinforces the need for action to improve resilience.

Leighton also said that clarity is needed around plans for a 2040 Zero Emissions Airport target, adding that the shortage of charging infrastructure at airports must be addressed to accelerate investment in new electrified and hydrogen-powered ground services equipment.

He urged the new government to ensure fees for infrastructure and power supplied by airports are set on a fair and transparent basis.  

ASUK said that according to its manifesto: “Labour’s first mission in government will be to grow our economy” and “flourishing international business is a vital part of [their] plan for growth”.

However, aviation is mentioned only twice, whilst it appears in the Conservative party manifesto only three times, said ASUK.

Meanwhile, Labour has promised to “secure the aviation industry’s long-term future, including through promoting sustainable aviation fuels and encouraging airspace modernisation”. The Conservatives have committed to “supporting growth and decarbonisation.”

The other parties have said they would oppose airport expansion, though the Liberal Democrats said they would place “a moratorium on net airport expansion” and oppose the expansion of airports in the Southeast, including Heathrow. The Green party would “not allow more or bigger airports”.

The Reform manifesto does not mention aviation at all.

Last month, Logistics UK reiterated its call for the creation of a dedicated logistics and supply chain minister.

Logistics UK reiterates call for dedicated logistics minister following election announcement

 

 

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Rebecca Jeffrey

Rebecca Jeffrey
New to aviation journalism, I joined Air Cargo News in late 2021 as deputy editor. I previously worked for Mercator Media’s six maritime sector magazines as a reporter, heading up news for Port Strategy. Prior to this, I was editor for Recruitment International (now TALiNT International). Contact me on: [email protected]