E-commerce drives cargo expansion at East Midlands despite Brexit uncertainties

Although uncertainty persists in United Kingdom-Europe air cargo markets following the most recent Brexit extension approved earlier this month, East Midland Airport (EMA) in the U.K. is moving forward with plans to expand cargo infrastructure at the airport. The expansion is needed to support the growing operations of its stakeholders, driven by increased demand in e-commerce and express freight, the airport said in a statement. 

EMA announced last week that the expansion of its east apron, which will allow up to four more aircraft to be parked at any one time at the airport, is underway. EMA hired U.K. contractor Galliford Try to carry out the apron expansion, but has not stated when the project will be completed. The expansion will serve to alleviate operational congestion and support the growth of air cargo providers’ – such as FedEx/TNT, UPS and Royal Mail – operations at the airport driven by growing local demand for e-commerce and express freight. 

In 2018, EMA handled over 365,000 tonnes of cargo. Manchester Airports Group (MAG), the U.K. airport group that owns and operates EMA, as well as Stansted (STN) and Manchester (MHT), has not yet released data on EMA’s performance for the full first quarter of 2019, but reported that volumes at EMA increased by 2.6% year-over-year in January. That month, EMA outperformed neighboring MHT and STN, which both posted y-o-y declines in January cargo volumes by 1.6% and 6.6%, respectively. Volumes at London Heathrow (LHR) also declined y-o-y in January by 1.8%, which worsened in February before slightly rebounding in March. 

The news of the expansion follows on the heels of the U.K. and E.U. agreeing to again delay the arrival of the looming specter that is Brexit until 31 Oct, according to BBCWhile the potential ramifications of Brexit are not yet clear, airports and air cargo providers in the U.K. have not been deterred from continuing investment and expansion plans related to cargo operations. 

In January, MAG called on U.K and E.U. negotiators to agree on a new long-term plan that will continue to provide a liberal “open skies” framework to support growth and competition. Tim Hawkins, MAG Chief Strategy Officer, said at the time that much of [EMA’s] growth has been made possible by the single aviation market created by the European Union and that it is “vital” that the U.K. and E.U. negotiators commit to an agreement on this issue. 

EMA said its airport authorities are currently designing a new business plan outlining strategies and investments in infrastructure that will position the airport to fully capitalize on the demand growth arising from booming e-commerce. Further details regarding these plans have not yet been disclosed but will be announced by the airport within the next six months. 

Meanwhile, UPS also decided to invest £114 million in the construction of a new facility to double its available capacity at EMA last year, while other air cargo providers are expanding their operations at U.K. airports such as Doncaster Sheffield (DSA) and Glasgow Prestwick (GLA).