Glasgow Prestwick Airport is the only gateway in Scotland where the largest air cargo freighters can fly into and is looking to grow its traffic. The airport is also working towards becoming a Spaceport, which could give its freight activities a boost.
Air Cargo Week spoke to Prestwick’s business development director, Mike Stewart who has been in the role for 18 months.
Justin Burns, ACW: How has 2017 been for cargo at Prestwick?
Stewart: Our two main customers operating scheduled cargo services are Cargolux Airlines operating a B747F five times a week and Air France KLM Cargo operating a B777F twice a week. We work closely with both, and as you’d expect there have been some ups and downs in terms of inbound and outbound balance.
Cargolux has seen very strong performance so far this year, with their monthly volumes consistently up versus last year. AFKLMP Cargo have had some challenges, but are also still performing well and their volumes are up on last year overall.
Both carriers are bringing cargo in from others areas of the UK to fill their freighters, such as Aberdeen with O&G and are trucking it from Manchester and further south.
Justin Burns, ACW: How is charter doing?
Stewart: Our charter business is primarily O&G serving the Aberdeen market. Despite the O&G downturn, large charter operators such as Air Charter Service continue to support Prestwick and we are focused on keeping these relationships going so we are able to support when the industry recovers. We have also been working with other charter customers from the entertainment industry to assist with various entertainment acts/concerts that perform in Glasgow.
Last year, we handled the sound and stage equipment for Madonna, Beyonce and Adele, with a total of nine widebody freighters. We are in a good position to support this type of business and there is definitely an opportunity for growth there for us.
We benefit from having a 3km long runway so can accept any size of aircraft, we have an huge amount of available warehouse space, and have many years of expertise in handling big movements.
Justin Burns, ACW: Are you aiming to add more freighters to your network?
Stewart: We are definitely looking for more freighter business. One area of opportunity is seafood, which is a high quality export from Scotland and a real potential growth area for us. Etihad and Emirates fill their belly capacity on flights from Glasgow and Edinburgh with Scottish salmon, but most of it is trucked down to Heathrow, or through the tunnel into Europe.
It is a difficult commodity to handle and we are managing highly competitive rates out of London that have remained low for many years, which is why there has been no dedicated seafood carrying freighters operating in Scotland. However, yields for seafood are rising and fuel price is down, so it is becoming more cost effective to do something creative here.
We have been working closely with the Scottish Government and the seafood export industry in Scotland. They are always looking for alternative, cost effective ways of getting their produce to market quickly. If we could fly the seafood directly out of Prestwick rather than truck it to Heathrow it would save 12 hours of transportation time, which would bring real benefits to the industry by bringing fresher products to the market at a premium. We are looking at if we can capitalise on this and establish a temp-controlled handling facility.
Justin Burns, ACW: Are you looking to handle belly cargo in future?
Stewart: Yes, we are optimistic about securing belly capacity and this is one area where Prestwick can certainly grow in the future. We have a superb opportunity. It is really a blank canvas; we have this huge, efficient, well run and well equipped airport with the longest commercial runway north of Manchester.
We have the capacity to handle many more passengers and tonnes of cargo than we currently do. Since I started at Prestwick around 18 months ago I have been working closely with various airlines and industry partners to showcase the excellent facilities we have here and we are very much open to handling more passenger and cargo business. Prestwick has a very bright future and will remain a key player in the UK air cargo market.
Justin Burns, ACW: Tell me about the Spaceport plans?
Stewart: With the UK government’s aim to have the first launch into space from the UK from 2020 in mind, we have been looking at the possibility of horizontal space launches taking off from our runway at Prestwick for the past two years, and this venture is fast becoming an area of significant potential.
Our location, 10,000 foot sea-facing runway, our size, and aerospace heritage with more than 4,500 people employed in the industry around the airport – all make us an ideal site for the UK’s, and Europe’s first commercial spaceport.
The global demand for launching small payload satellites (up to 500 kilos) into low Earth orbit, quickly and cost effectively, is growing. It is one of the fastest growing industries, and Prestwick is well placed to serve demand.
If satellite launches were to become a regular feature this would involve the movement of large quantities of highly specialised cargo, from small individual components, and satellites to entire launch vehicle systems. There will be a whole new infrastructure required to support this that does not anywhere in the UK. These are exciting times.