Doncaster Sheffield’s expansion plans position it as alternative to congested U.K. airports

Despite the continued saga of Brexit and the uncertainty it instills into European-U.K. markets, Doncaster Sheffield Airport (DSA) is moving forward with plans to expand cargo operations and position itself as an alternative to congested airports in the United Kingdom. 

Today, DSA announced the appointment of Ray Wood – who has over 20 years’ experience from working formerly at Virgin Atlantic, IAG Cargo and Lufthansa Cargo – as head of cargo. At DSA he will manage the commercial and operational development of cargo operations as the airport aims to develop into an international cargo gateway. 

In its “Masterplan 2018-2037, DSA said it will develop 1.5 million square feet of airside facilities, including new cargo facilities, general and business aviation facilities, multipurpose hangarage and a dedicated MRO campus. An additional 3 million square feet of landside logistics will also be developed, including the construction of space for advanced manufacturing and new site access roads. In its “Vision Plan, DSA said the airport’s ultimate aim is to develop into a central hub for cargo and the Sheffield city region into a “highly sophisticated” aerotropolis. Eventually, DSA said it could facilitate an airport operation equivalent to London Stansted or even London Gatwick in their current forms and enable the U.K. to compete for a significant increase in European air cargo market share. 

Wood also said that DSA’s central location and multimodal connections to its surrounding region are supportive of the cargo needs of the U.K. The airport runs cargo operations 24/7, has no slot constraints and can accommodate large freighter aircraft. Furthermore, he said, there is significant potential to establish DSA as a major logistics hub due to its 3 million square feet of development space for multi-modal logistics facilities.  

Thus far, DSA has constructed a 50,000 square foot transit shed facility, which increased its capacity fourfold, according to the airport. 

In 2018, DSA handled 18,000 tonnes of cargo, a 42% increase from the year prior. DSA aims to double this throughput to 40,000 tonnes per annum by 2022/2023 through increased scheduled freighter traffic and growth of its client base. The airport aims to increase this figure to 70,000 tonnes of cargo per annum by 2037, and up to 200,000 tonnes per year in the long-term.  

In comparison, Stansted (STN) handled approximately 250,000 tonnes of cargo in 2018, while Gatwick (LGW) handled 113,000 tonnes of cargo in 2018 – a 16.1% increase in its volumes compared to the year prior. LGW attributed its growth to the increase in its long-haul routes to destinations including, Shanghai (PVG), Las Vegas (LAS) and Tampa (TPA). 

Both STN and LGW however, do experience heavy congestion as detailed in the International Air Transportation Association’s (IATA’s) 2019 worldwide airport slot report. In fact, 16 U.K. airports – Belfast City (BHD), Belfast International (BFS), Birmingham (BHX), Bristol (BRS), East Midlands (EMA), Edinburgh (EDI), Glasgow (GLA), Leeds Bradford (LBA), Liverpool (LPL), London-City (LCY), Gatwick (LGW), Heathrow (LHR), Newcastle (NCL), Southampton (SOU) and Stansted (STN) – in total are cited in the report as congested. 

Over the past year, there has been an increase in small and medium-sized airports gaining attention from air cargo industry providers. So, although it is beginning at a low base, DSA could potentially attract air cargo industry providers interested in developing facilities to expand the capacity of their operations in the European region.