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Fighting for every tonne

In its Scoping Report to the Planning Inspectorate, RiverOak quotes a study by Oxford Economics in 2015: “Impacts on the Air Freight Industry, Customers and Associated Business Sectors”. This report was prepared for Transport for London to look at the impact on the air freight business of not increasing airport capacity.

The study focuses on air cargo trade that might be lost to London (but not necessarily the UK) under a number of future scenarios. It makes a number of points:

  • bellyhold freight (the kind that an airport at Manston would NOT be handling) is a growing trend (p13)
  • Heathrow handles 87% of the UK’s bellyhold freight
  • The Department for Transport estimates that the market for air freight handled by dedicated cargo planes (the sort that a new airport at Manston would hope to get) will expand at just 0.4% a year, in line with the growth in dedicated freight that took place between 1990 and 2012 (p22)
  • The dedicated air freight market is highly cyclical and depends on the growth of world trade (p39).

We conclude, therefore, that as the world economy is stuttering at the moment, the future is not going to be rosy for RiverOak’s desired market.

Oxford Economics then produced a lower, middle and higher forecast of the impact on London airports at different rates of growth in the air freight market. At the middle one (used by RiverOak in its Scoping Report) there could be £106bn worth of air freight lost to the London airports. This is important. It’s NOT a possible future loss to the UK as RiverOak claim on page 8 of their pre-consultation brochure, but to London.

Oxford Economics’ forecast is that we won’t run out of air freight capacity in 2020, nor in 2030. By 2040, says the report, there will be a need for an extra 1,000 dedicated cargo flights a year. The report estimates that that’ll increase by 2050 to 3,000 extra dedicated cargo flights needed.

And RiverOak need to persuade the Planning Inspectorate that they’ll secure 10,000 (or 12,000 – the jury’s out on that question) dedicated cargo flights a year.


If the new demand created is only 1,000 cargo flights in 25 years’ time, RiverOak will need to get at least 9,000 cargo flights from existing airports as well as securing every single one of those new 1,000 flights. Just how does RiverOak plan to lure business from successful airports down to Manston? Well, probably not by undercutting on price, because that doesn’t make business sense – it’s been tried and the airport went belly up. Again and again. Could it be…, no, surely not, … yes, could it be by offering easy access to night flights?

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