Freight and the Great Aviation Debate

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The great aviation debate is gathering pace. All eyes are moving to the Davies Commission, the independent inquiry set up to bottom out the UK's airport capacity needs and how best to meet them.The major airports are beginning to publicise their pitches to the Commission. Last week it was Birmingham's turn, today it's Heathrow's. But amidst the debate and wall-to-wall coverage of the issue, there is an important angle that all too often tends to get neglected - airfreight.

Focusing on the passenger dimension is understandable. It's the main of focus most airports and airlines. And air travel is an experience known to many, making the issue more readily apparent to the public at large.

But even a cursory look at some of the statistics quickly brings into focus the vital importance of airfreight to our economy. Nearly 40% of the UK's exports of goods and commodities by value are air freighted. Whilst Heathrow is the largest UK cargo port by value for non EU trade.

This makes airfreight a crucial enabler for an export-intensive sector like manufacturing and export-led growth in general. It's our main link to the fastest growing parts of the global marketplace. This importance is underlined by a number of findings in EEF's recent transport survey.

The majority of manufacturers say that aviation infrastructure is important or critical to sending and receiving goods and raw materials. Amongst the most outward-looking firms, those for whom exports account for more than half of turnover, over 70% cite it as critical or important.

It's also clear that the current state of the UK's aviation capacity is causing manufacturers problems. And it is hitting export-intensive firms the hardest. Amongst companies generating more than 75% of sales from exports, more than 40% of firms report experiencing significant delays in receiving goods from suppliers and sending orders to customers as a result.

Intriguingly, there is a suggestion that manufacturers in South East England, where the airport capacity crunch is most acute, are also being hit especially hard by this issue. Firms in the region are more than twice as likely to report a significant increase in operating costs due to the state of the UK's aviation infrastructure.

So here at EEF we are looking for the Davies Commission to go beyond the narrow confines of the current public debate and pay airfreight the attention its importance to the economy deserves.

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