The expansion of Heathrow Airport will support long-term growth in the air freight sector, the Airports Commission has concluded in its report on the future of aviation in the UK.
The commission said Heathrow “dominates the UK air freight market”, with around £105 billion worth of freight passing through it in 2014, and “the long-haul links that an expanded Heathrow can provide will support long-term growth in this sector”.
“Today around 40 per cent of the UK’s trade with economies outside the EU by value is transported by air and in 2014 alone the total value of tradable goods carried through UK airports exceeded £140 billion,” said the report.
The report recommends the construction of a third runway to the northwest of Heathrow over the alternatives of expansion at Gatwick or a new airport in the Thames estuary. However, the commission said the expansion must be accompanied by limits on noise and pollution and a ban on night flights.
Sir Howard Davies, chairman of the commission, said: “Heathrow is best-placed to provide the type of capacity which is most urgently required: long haul destinations to new markets. It provides the greatest benefits for business passengers, freight operators and the broader economy.”
The report said aviation “supports British manufacturing” and helped “secure the position of UK-based manufacturers in complex global supply chains”.
“In the future, with the global economy’s centre of gravity moving eastward, pulled by the rapidly growing economies of South and East Asia, and global supply chains becoming more complex, air connections will be even more important in establishing access to important import and export markets for UK’s firms,” said the report.
“By 2030 advanced manufacturing industries such as pharmaceuticals or chemicals, whose components and products are predominately moved by air, are expected to be among the top five UK export markets by their share of value.”
The commission said the impact on air travel of new technologies such as video-conferencing and 3D printing “should not be overstated”.
It said “video-conferencing may actually encourage more international interactions” and 3D printing was “unlikely to significantly affect the sectors that are strongly reliant on air freight, such as machinery, pharmaceuticals or food”.
The commission’s recommendation has been backed by the CBI, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport and the Board of Airline Representatives in the UK.
The government established the independent commission in 2012 to "identify and recommend options to maintain the UK’s position as Europe’s most important aviation hub".