Infrastructure requires a major upgrade

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Cargo handling provider dnata is also eyeing up expansion at Heathrow. dnata UK Chief Commercial Officer, Mohammed Akhlaq says it is currently looking at setting up an eighth handling facility near Heathrow within the next 24 months.

dnata presently has seven facilities at Heathrow including the vast dnata City. The present facilities cover 500,000 square feet and account for 500,000 tonnes of cargo per year.

“We are growing immensely at Heathrow providing bespoke and customer led services for our clients,” he explains.

“We are looking to develop new facilities as demand continues to increase and we find ourselves at complete capacity. There is just no more space left for us at Heathrow which is exacerbated by old infrastructure on airport. Customers are looking for us to progress and that means another facility off airport. It’s at the very early stages of planning, indeed we are just going through the architectural designs at present.”

Akhlaq adds that growth at Heathrow is being seen in e-commerce, multi-valuable cargo and pharmaceuticals. He sees further benefits from the third runway but only if Heathrow uses it to spur cargo development.

“It is very positive for UK PLC. Heathrow is a major gateway and will continue to be so. But the present upscaling of the cargo development programme at the airport remains slow,” he states.

Europa Air & Sea national airfreight manager, Andy Serpant

“We also believe that lack of cargo infrastructure and strategy has not been as prominent as it should have been in the discussions around the third runway.” Europa Air & Sea National Airfreight Manager, Andy Serpant is also cautious.

“At present when there is huge demand such as at Christmas the cargo infrastructure at the airport just can’t cope. You see some really bad queues and there is a real need for a total overhaul both now and in the future to deal with increased flights after a third runway is built,” he states.

“The focus will be on passenger flights and travel and there are questions over whether some freight will be diverted to Stansted instead of Heathrow. It will be an interesting expansion.”

There is more optimism from Lufthansa Cargo director sales and handling UK & Ireland, Phil Cimpoias says: “There is a lot of hope that extra capacity will bring extra cargo. We will have to see what happens with the extra slots but there is potential that it will lead to more freighter movements out of Heathrow,” he says.

“At present we are working closely with Heathrow to increase the cargo capacity and improve flexibility. We really need more development for the future.”

Despite those differing views both Europa and Lufthansa have seen strong demand at Heathrow over the last 12 months. Cimpoias hails a successful period of growth boosted by pharma, oil and gas and cars to the US and South America in particular.

Serpant states that Europa’s volumes have also grown “hugely” particularly on exports out of the UK. “That could be the weak pound as a result of Brexit or more investment in our sales team. More loads such as food to engineering spares are going to Africa as well as China and Hong Kong,” he states.

“With Brexit in mind we are seeing a surge in interest from companies thinking about exporting to new markets. We are getting a lot of quotes as people get a feel for air freight in the near future. Heathrow by its nature is the number one freight hub in the UK and is very important to us and the country.”