Becoming the UK’s fastest growing airfreight operation


Having started with almost no cargo in April 2020, Bournemouth Airport has cemented its status as one of the fastest developing cargo hubs in the UK following the launch of Cargo First. Cargo First is the cargo operations brand of Bournemouth Airport, itself part of the privately-owned Regional and City Airports group.

This success has been aided by the flexibility provided by Bournemouth, as it’s the only cargo airport serving London and the South-East UK market with total open slots availability and a unique flexible One Team service. Not needing to rely on third party operators, Bournemouth is able to be nimble, responding quickly to new opportunities that emerge. 

Bournemouth’s growth is also in its location, at only 90 minutes road transport time to London, customers are offered all the benefits of operating in an efficient regional airport combined with the close proximity to the UK’s capital city. This allows the airport to consistently offer a service time from aircraft touchdown to delivery to London faster than if the same cargo had landed in one of the London hub airports.

“The motivation behind our cargo operation is essentially the same as the core objective of our parent group: to offer our customers a better service and a genuine alternative to the congested London hub airports. In the cargo sector, we believe Bournemouth is perfectly located as an alternative access point to London, the whole of South-East England and beyond,” Bob Matharoo, Head of Cargo Development, Cargo First – Bournemouth Airport, said. 

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Regions driving the industry

At Bournemouth, the runway is open for business, with existing warehouse capacity (and options to develop more in the near future). From a wider UK market perspective, “with very little in the way of coherent strategic government policy relating to aviation capacity growth planning,” Cargo First believes that regional airports are capable of providing the extra capacity the market needs now, and well into the future. 

Cargo operators benefitted from access into congested airports during the course of the pandemic. But as hub airports return to a passenger-first perspective, cargo operators once again find themselves being squeezed out. 

“So right now, we’re seeing a wave of operators looking for an alternative to service their current operations, whilst also starting to think about where airports are going to have capacity to handle growth well into the future,” Matharoo explained. “At Cargo First – Bournemouth Airport, we are keen to demonstrate to operators how we can offer a time- and cost-effective alternative solution for today whilst also safeguarding capacity for future growth.”

“Absolutely – we’re keen to demonstrate how we can tailor our service to achieve mutual growth.  With an expansive estate at our disposal (of which the airfield itself is only about half) we believe we’re ideally placed to provide options for growth both of cargo flying activity but also associated warehousing capacity in a way that no other airport in South-East England can,” he continued.

Changing minds

Cargo First’s One Team service means Bournemouth offers a one-stop-shop service from touchdown to truck.  With no third party involvement within that service chain, the hub has total control of its costs and can be highly efficient and nimble to work with operators to offer cost advantages versus other South-East UK airports. 

“We’re keen to show that the savings don’t end there: access to uncongested highways means that forwarders can eliminate a lot of trucking dead time, airlines can avoid all the ground and air holding delays you get at the big airports and so on,” Matharoo stated. “This means that we’re helping to produce tangible cost savings across the wider logistics chain too, not just on site at our airport.  This combination of cost savings (and service efficiencies) is giving our customers a truly compelling offering that hasn’t previously existed in the UK airfreight market.”

To achieve Bournemouth’s goal of providing this service to a growing number of cargo operators, the airport must first overcome a mindset in the industry that ‘we’ve always done it this way – why should we change?’ With three years’ service under its belt, Cargo First hopes to be able to demonstrate the differences it can offer via direct service and cost benchmarking.  

“There is a growing understanding, in an environment of high pressure upon costs and service quality, that sticking with what you know is not always good enough if there are proven alternatives out there,” Matharoo added.

READ: Bournemouth-based European Cargo celebrates freighter milestone

Shaping operations

Building a cargo hub from the ground up, Bournemouth has carved out a speciality handling time-sensitive e-commerce goods, ranging from volume-drive consignments manufactured in the Far East to high value consumer goods exported from the UK. Alongside that, Bournemouth handles a vast array of general cargo to more specialist goods, such as perishable exports. 

“We’re continually expanding our handling capabilities, so watch this space for further exciting developments!” Matharoo said.

Up until now, the focus of Cargo First’s flying operations has been the Far East and North America, covering regular and ad hoc routes. As markets, and Bournemouth’s cargo operations develop further, the hub expects to see regular routes established into Africa, the Middle East and Europe. 

“As the UK market continues to readjust to its new situation post-Brexit, post-pandemic and with certain sectors of the cargo market (such as perishables imports) re-evaluating future trade lanes into the country – there are a lot of opportunities out there for us and we are working hard behind the scenes to develop our handling services accordingly,” Matharoo stated. “No matter how we develop and expand, however, our focus remains on what we believe to be our key USP: faster airfreight to London, South-East England and beyond.”