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Christmas drone chaos shows an over reliance on southern airports and shaky infrastructure

The chaos at Gatwick last month emphasised the UK air freight sector’s over-reliance on the south-east region.

When Heathrow and Gatwick are working at full tilt – which is almost all the time – they can claim to be the most efficient airports in the world.

Between 19 and 21 December, thousands of flights were grounded and cancelled after drone sightings sparked safety concerns at Gatwick.

Although few cargo flights were affected then, the sighting at Heathrow caused major industry concern.

Last month, the government launched a 16-week consultation on its aviation strategy, outlined in the publication of Aviation 2050: The Future of UK Aviation.

Throughout the document, the government refers to supporting continued growth of the air freight sector by making best use of existing capacity at airports.

Head of cargo at Manchester Airport Group (MAG) Conan Busby, speaking to The Loadstar said “MAG has the third- and fourth-largest airports and the UK’s largest dedicated cargo aircraft operation, at East Midlands (EMA). All are perfectly positioned to continue to facilitate global trade for UK businesses and consumers.”

Mr Busby added there was “significant” transformation under way at EMA with its cargo operation, DHL having doubled its capacity while UPS is building its new UK air hub there.

“Also, beyond our boundary there is the East Midlands Gateway Rail Freight development under construction, which will further support UK logistics.”

Mr Busby said MAG was “not interested in a speculative approach to growth”, but some in the forwarding community believe this may be the best way forward.

Namely, if regional airports were serious about challenging Heathrow, they would “need to be less risk averse and use any options to attract more carriers providing cargo services”.

However, Mr Busby expected EMA to lead MAG’s cargo growth in the years to come, with both Manchester and Stansted in support. He added the group would be “pushing” to make best use of the runway capacity at both airports.

He added: “All three airports will play a key role in facilitating UK global trade especially as attention turns to understanding what trade deals might look like post-Brexit.”

Both airports are now reported to be investing in anti drone technology and have invested several million pounds in providing ourselves with the equipment and the technology that the armed forces deployed over Christmas,”

Source: The Loadstar / Independent.co.uk / Fin24.com