Cargo mission for Heathrow’s Platts

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Heathrow Airport’s head of cargo Nick Platts says he is “on a mission” to make it Europe’s premier airfreight hub – as the gateway’s pivotal role to the UK economy has again been highlighted.

The gateway has big freight plans and unveiled plans earlier this month to spend £180 million ($273 million) on upgrades.

Export data, provided by UK Customs last week, show £48 billion worth of British goods were exported through Heathrow between August 2014 and July 2015, a 9.7 per cent rise on the previous 12 months, representing 26 per cent of UK exports by value.

Speaking to Air Cargo Week, Platts says the aim is for Heathrow to become the “leading airport for cargo in Europe” and the blueprint is part of a 15-year vision.

Heathrow will invest in its cargo facilities, people and processes, and Platts says proposals were developed with freight forwarders, airlines, and the local community.

The airport said earlier this month its investment in cargo will double cargo capacity by 2030, which will “boost the UK’s global export competitiveness by enabling faster, more efficient cargo movements”.

Investments includes proposals for a specialist pharmaceutical storage area, better infrastructure to reduce congestion, a new air-to-air transit facility on the airfield, technology to make Heathrow e-freight ready, a new truck parking facility to cater for 100 vehicles and improved cargo processes.

Platt says his initial focus is on streamlining processes, set to be in operation by the end of 2017. “We are looking at halving our cargo footprint make it a better airport for cargo and will develop our cargo area as this was one of the priorities forwarders asked for.

“We are also looking at our security control processes to make sure they are as efficient as possible and want to speed up the process, and have it similar as it is for passengers,” Platts adds.

He explains a new airside facility for airlines to transfer freight more quickly from aircraft to aircraft, will get the time down from six hours to about two hours. Another key process will be to get truckers out of the cargo ‘horseshow’, making the airport more attractive for truckers while a fast track freight lane will be created.

As for now, Platts says Heathrow’s volumes have been a little isolated from the global downturn as it has a varied network.

Bellyhold makes up 95 per cent of volumes and Platts says he is focusing on getting wider aircraft, with bigger cargo capacity. A third runway would drive volumes, and boost capacity to three million tonnes. Heathrow handled 1.5 million in 2014.

Platts says: “A third runway would allow us to grow and boost the UK economy, but even if we do not have one, we will grow UK exports. With 40 extra long-haul routes, it will open up more emerging markets. It makes sense we get them, as we are the centre for UK airfreight.”