Heathrow will be stepping up its cargo capabilities as it calls on more airlines and freight companies to maximise the use of the hub airport’s quieter schedule so that the aviation industry can play its part in the economic and social fight against COVID-19. Air freight will keep vital supply lines open and help to get time-critical and temperature-sensitive goods, such as medical supplies and food across the UK as the country pulls together to battle this pandemic.
Logistics companies have already begun playing a key role in this fight, by importing COVID-19 testing kits via Heathrow, in preparation for increased demand. Next week, Heathrow’s cargo movements are forecast to increase by 53%, as more airlines and freighters use the available capacity to transport goods which will assist in the fight against coronavirus. This figure is set to increase further as the airport scales up its cargo operation. Pharmaceutical products are one of Heathrow’s top imports, with the airport handling 41% of the UK’s pharmaceutical imports (by value). In 2019, over 12,000 tonnes of medical supplies such as medicines, vaccines, sanitisers, syringes and respirators travelled through Heathrow.
During normal operations, Heathrow is the UK’s largest port by value. 34% of the country’s cargo travels through the airport, with the majority of that cargo (95%) being carried in the belly hold of passenger planes. Whilst passenger travel remains restricted for many, airports will continue to play a key role in keeping the UK’s supply chain alive, for both essential workers and goods. This is why Heathrow will be repurposing its operation and scaling up its cargo offering at this difficult time.
Heathrow is also taking a number of steps to assist the airline industry during this challenging time. These steps include supporting slot alleviation – a relaxation of the rules requiring airlines to use their slots to keep them, offering free parking to aircraft grounded as a result of COVID-19 and bringing forward growth incentive payments which have helped to increase cashflow for airlines during a challenging time for the sector.
Before becoming a civilian airport in 1946, Heathrow was one of the country’s military airfields. The aerodrome served military aircraft bound for the Far East, helping to transport troops, supplies and care packages. Now that the country works to battle the coronavirus pandemic, the airport will support the nation once again by helping the country to receive testing kits, protection equipment and crucial machinery such as respirators, as the UK works to overcome the outbreak.
Heathrow CEO, John Holland-Kaye, said: “This is an unprecedented time for the international community, with COVID-19 requiring us all to work together, adapt and adopt extraordinary measures to quell the spread of this virus. For the first time in a decade, our airport has additional capacity in its schedule, capacity which we’ve begun to see used to help push vital supplies across the globe to help support frontline teams in the battle against this pandemic.
“We stand ready to support the country through this crisis. Our intention is to remain open at all times to serve those passenger flights that will continue to operate. And as the UK’s biggest port, we will temporarily increase the number of dedicated cargo flights. These will bring in vital supplies of food and medical equipment to help Britain weather this storm.”