Heathrow’s exports feel the squeeze

Research being published today has found that 39 direct freight routes out of Europe’s busiest airport are already full and 57 will be unable to take any more cargo within the next 15 years, reports The Times.

Long-haul routes to Asia are said to be suffering the most, with exports increasingly unable to reach cities such as Shanghai, Tokyo and Mumbai directly from Heathrow. Four destinations to North America, including Los Angeles and Dallas, were similarly affected.

The study, by the Frontier Economics consultancy, is being published amid fresh concerns from business leaders about the impasse over expansion at Heathrow. The Airports Commission recommended in July that Heathrow should be given permission to build a third runway because it offered greater economic benefits. Ministers promised a decision by the end of the year, but they may push it into the middle of next year, pending further assessment of the environmental impact of a third runway.

Heathrow reached its annual flight cap, 480,000 take-offs and landings, a decade ago. It is Britain’s busiest port by value, carrying £101 billion of goods last year, almost all of that in the holds of passenger aircraft. This represented two thirds of total air freight in the UK and three quarters of cargo being flown beyond the European Union.

The latest study has found that the airport had capacity for 2.9 million tonnes last year but carried only 1.5 million — yet on 39 routes, all cargo space has been taken up, forcing exporters to use indirect flights, often via rival hub airports in Europe. About 160,000 tonnes of freight was unable to fly directly last year.

Of that, 14 routes were between Britain and Asia — almost 30 per cent of present traffic to the continent. In all, the most constrained routes were between Heathrow and Shanghai, Tokyo, Cairo, Nairobi, Chengdu, Mumbai, Karachi, Dallas/Fort Worth, Mexico City and Accra.