East Midlands Airport is flying high

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ACW spoke to Clare James, managing director of East Midlands Airport (EMA) about the highs and lows of 2020 and hitting the ground running in 2021.

Q: 2020 was certainly a strange and challenging year, how was business in terms of cargo at EMA?

A: Last spring, in the early part of the pandemic, EMA was one of Europe’s top 10 busiest airports because of its cargo traffic. Throughout the year there has been approximately an increase of 18% uplift in the volume of cargo that has been handled at EMA. The airport has just had its busiest peak season in the run up to Christmas and December 2020, volumes were up 43% compared with December 2019.

Q: EMA proved to be a gateway for essential goods coming in to the UK. What drove this?

A: The drivers of this are primarily two-fold. Firstly, a reduction in long-haul belly hold capacity across the world has meant more goods being flown by dedicated air cargo operators, the likes of which are based at EMA (DHL, UPS, FedEx etc.)

Secondly, much of the demand is being driven by the fact that more people are shopping online as non-essential shops are shut because of lockdowns and other restrictions. The express freight operators, which are based at EMA, handle everything from fashion items through to electronic and household goods – the sorts of products that more people are ordering online.

In terms of the passenger operation – this has been decimated by COVID restrictions, lockdowns and quarantining requirements, which wiped out all demand. Passenger numbers are down almost 90% on the previous year.

Q: What makes you optimistic about recovery in 2021?

Airlines are telling us that bookings are picking up for the summer, which is encouraging news. A combination of pre-travel testing (we have a testing centre at the airport), combined with the rollout of the vaccine, will be key to opening up international passenger travel later this year. Many people will be desperate for a holiday this summer but obviously much depends on how quickly we recover from the latest strain and when lockdowns start to be eased.

Well over 90% of EMA’s passengers are leisure travellers and so when the conditions are right for people to start flying off on holiday again, I hope they come back to EMA in large numbers. However, industry insight suggests that it could take up to four years for pre-pandemic passenger demand to return globally.

Our forecasts suggest that the cargo operation will continue to grow as demand for online retail continues to soar.

Q: Vaccine transport has taken a large proportion of capacity. Has this affected other cargo operations at EMA?

A: We’re not aware that any vaccines are being flown in and out of EMA to date. However, medical equipment and PPE has been handled at EMA by the operators based at the airport since the start of the pandemic back in Spring last year.

Q: What about Brexit? Have the regulation changes of this year affected operations thus far at the airport?

A: It hasn’t. From a cargo perspective the operators based at EMA have been preparing for all sorts of scenarios for years and are experts in moving goods all around the world. So they have the expertise and processes in place to deal with any additional processes.

From a passenger perspective there is currently very little change to any departure or arrival requirements.

Q: What is one thing you’ve learned from the chaos of 2020?

A: The importance of being nimble given the rapidly changing circumstances. Planning too far ahead has been almost impossible.