In July 2020, the UK Government granted development consent for the re-opening of Manston Airport in Kent, closed since 2014. The developers, RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP), plan a £300m investment to create an air freight hub along with passenger services and a business aviation operation. According to RSP, it would handle 10,000 air cargo movements by its sixth year.
The re-opening and expansion of the airport has generated considerable local controversy. However, in economic terms, there is a very strong case for a dedicated global air cargo hub for the UK. There are many reasons why.
Set against these arguments, questions remain over how long the economic downturn will continue, especially in the air passenger sector. With plenty of capacity at Heathrow, is an alternative needed? Perhaps not in the short term, but by 2023, when the airport may be operational, some of the congestion issues in the UK airport sector could have returned. Also, there is the issue of the poor road transport infrastructure which links the airport with London and the rest of the South East of England. This must be addressed if the airport’s developers are to tempt air cargo carriers and freight forwarders away from Heathrow. And not least, there is the issue of technology. The major airports have sophisticated airport cargo community systems, linking every part and player in the chain. Providing supply chain visibility will be a prerequisite if Manston Airport is to compete on the basis of efficiency.
The UK needs investment in its transport infrastructure if its economy is to remain competitive, especially post-Brexit. The development of Manston Airport as a new air freight hub would be a significant boost for the local and national economy. We have seen other air cargo-specialist hubs in Europe, such as Liege, prosper over the past few years. With the right level of private investment as well as support from government, there is no reason that Manston could not provide a feasible additional airport option for UK and even European shippers.
Source: Transport Intelligence, October 20, 2020
Author: John Manners-Bell
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