Stansted Airport cargo operations up 43.6% in July and 25% in August as shopping online took off in lockdown
Online shopping has fuelled a rise in cargo operations at Stansted Airport.
The slump in passenger flights, which carry goods in their hold, has also increased demand for dedicated services for cargo.
Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which owns Stansted, has seen a similar surge at its East Midlands Airport, near Castle Donington in Leicestershire.
Aboudy Nasser, group aviation director for MAG, said: "The last few months have seen a seismic shift in the way we live our lives. While much has been made of the changes to the way people travel, behind the scenes our airports have been leading the charge in helping the logistics sector adapt to rising demand for dedicated air cargo and changes in the way goods are transported.
"This underlines the vital role MAG airports play in supporting the UK economy as it gets back on its feet and the critical role of air cargo in moving essential products quickly across the globe. We look forward to continuing our work with this important sector as it prepares itself for ever-increasing demand in the months ahead."
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the proportion of UK shopping carried out online rose from 19% in February to almost 33% in April as lockdown restrictions took hold.
Over the summer months, traditionally the quieter time of year for air cargo, volumes at East Midlands – home to the UK's largest dedicated air cargo operation – and Stansted were significantly up on the same time last year. In July and August, East Midlands saw an increase of 21.2% and 18.5% respectively, while volumes at Stansted increased by 43.6% and 25% in the same months.
The shift is also being driven by the lack of traditional belly-hold operations, where goods are transported in the baggage hold of passenger aircraft.
With many airlines scaling back long-haul flights, against a backdrop of a two-thirds reduction in travel overall from MAG's three bases, this belly-hold capacity has reduced significantly, especially on popular routes to the United States.
During June, July and August there has been an average of 60 extra cargo flights between East Midlands and the US and, most notably, a 120% increase in the volume of goods travelling between East Midlands and JFK airport in New York. In addition, there are additional weekly flights between Stansted and the US.
These volumes are eclipsing what would normally be expected during the weeks leading up to Christmas, which is traditionally the busiest time of year for dedicated air cargo and express freight airlines.
It comes after the airports played a central role in transporting essential goods during the pandemic, with shipments of vital medical supplies and PPE helping to add to the increase in volume.
Denise Rossiter, chief executive of Essex Chambers of Commerce, said: "Stansted is generally thought of as somewhere to start your holiday or perhaps a business trip to an ever-growing number of destinations across the globe.
"These figures show its importance for exporters and importers too and how it is increasingly a major contributor to not just the Essex economy but that of the UK generally, and why it is so important to businesses in Essex. I congratulate MAG and all at the airport on this achievement and look forward to seeing continuing growth in the future."
Dr Ann Limb, chair of the UK Innovation Corridor, said: "These figures clearly demonstrate the importance of aviation to the UK and regional economy. Airports like Stansted are playing a huge role in the economic fight against Covid-19 and during these difficult times this news is a major boost for the London-Cambridge Innovation Corridor."