ACE Sameday Couriers can trace its origins to East Midlands Airport (EMA) in Castle Donington, operating from a small office behind the maintenance hangars at the western end of the airport. The company was set up in the 1990s to provide a same day delivery service to some of the firms that were importing air freight through the airport and still does so to this day. Since then EMA has gone on to become the largest ‘pure freight’ airport (it handles more dedicated cargo aircraft than any other) in the country. It handled approximately 360,000 tonnes of cargo in the year to the end of March 2018, an increase of 9.7% on the previous twelve months.
In terms of total freight tonnage handled, East Midlands Airport is now second only to Heathrow, thanks in part to the presence of major players in the delivery market such as DHL, UPS, TNT and Royal Mail. The recent completion of a £90m extension to DHL’s European hub and the ongoing development of a sizeable new hub for UPS signifies confidence in the airport’s future.
There are a number of factors that contribute to EMA’s success in attracting freight operators. It can handle large freight aircraft (e.g. Antonov 225, 747 freighters, A380) and for air cargo operators the lack of restrictions on night flying are vital. With ever increasing demand for short lead times, next day delivery firms need to bring freight into the country at night, sort and distribute it to their local delivery depots in time for onward delivery to consumers. With 90% of England and Wales being within a 4 hour drive (by lorry) from EMA it is a perfect location for distribution.
The success of the airport’s freight operation drives the local economy and attracts other developments to the area. Anyone who has travelled on the M1 past junction 24 lately will see that the landscape is changing as the new SEGRO distribution park takes shape on land adjacent to the airport. Once complete it will accommodate 6m square feet of warehousing alongside a 50 acre rail freight terminal and container storage facility. It will be the country’s first co-located air and rail freight interchange.
According to Sir John Peace, Chairman of Midlands Engine and Midlands Connect, said: “East Midlands Airport has a critical role to play as Britain forges a new position for itself in the world. The Midlands’ £50 billion export economy will only continue to thrive if road and rail access to international freight gateways like East Midlands Airport is an ongoing priority.
“Midlands Connect is examining options to improve access to the airport for freight and passengers, as well as providing a link to the new HS2 East Midlands Hub station in Toton. We’re also looking at ways to accelerate the arrival of HS2 services in the East Midlands by three years to 2030. This will support earlier growth around Toton and the nearby East Midlands Gateway, which together will create tens of thousands of jobs and attract more global logistics firms to the East Midlands. Together, East Midlands Airport and Midlands Connect can deliver on ambitious growth plans which will help power the Midlands Engine.”
Although we are entering uncharted economic waters with Brexit less than a year away, there is every reason to have confidence in the power of the local economy. The Midlands is a major economic force in its own right, but as pressure grows on the infrastructure of London and the South East, it is surely time to utilise the extra capacity that we already have north of Watford Gap.