Bournemouth Airport has a long history of aviation since it became a civilian airport, acting as the UK’s main hub until London’s Heathrow Airport became established before developing in other areas such as aircraft production.
Cargo is the latest chapter in Bournemouth’s history, taking off when the pandemic created extra demand to handle test kits and PPE. Since then, Bournemouth has created the Cargo First brand and with the help of European Cargo, has become a popular hub for e-commerce.
In April, European Cargo linked Bournemouth Airport with Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport in China. Operating three times a week, the Airbus A340-600F services are offering 76 tonnes of payload and 440 cubic metres of volume capacity per flight for cross-border e-commerce sellers.
Rob Johnson, Aviation & Cargo Development Manager at Cargo First says the core client and end client for the Chengdu route are both happy with the service and excited at the prospect of further growth in Bournemouth.
He says, “The cargo project is three years in the making, what is good for us to see is that the brand, both us and European Cargo, are becoming well known. Eighteen months ago, if you went out to China, a lot of people would not recognise Bournemouth Airport or European Cargo but the feedback we are getting in the market is that the brand is well known as an alternative entry point and service provider to and from the UK.”
European Cargo is operating with A340-600s, which have been converted into a hybrid freighter aircraft, operating with a unique cargo pod system on the main deck.
Chief Commercial Officer Eliska Hill states, “We have been operating the Chengdu-Bournemouth routing successfully for three months now and are moving into the next phase of a rapid growth strategy. Three aircraft are converted from a passenger configuration with a fourth being completed this month.”
The fifth and sixth aircraft are scheduled to be converted by the end of the year and the European Cargo team is busy securing programmes currently.
Working with the Bournemouth team means all the customers’ needs are covered.
Hill explains, “We work at a partnership level with select customers on various routings, which are carefully planned and executed. We have the full support of the Cargo First team and we work closely together with the airport to make sure the logistical offering to partners is a complete solution.”
E-commerce is a key area of growth, hence it will be a busy few months focused on Q4. European Cargo will be flying six aircraft by the end of the year with ten flying by the third quarter of next year.
Globally, the air cargo market is going through a challenging period; however not being restricted like the scheduled carriers, European Cargo can be agile and more flexible to utilise regional airports, which is why it is connecting Bournemouth with Chengdu.
“This is not a market for passengers but it is the origin for the volumes. The beauty of being a non-scheduled carrier is we can focus on where the business is and the where optimal revenue will be,” says Hill.
Johnson adds that the UK has never been well-served for widebody cargo capacity, unlike European neighbours, making this a good time to change that, especially in the e-commerce sector.
Post-Brexit, e-commerce players based in the Far East focused on Europe, making the decision to step away from the UK, says Johnson, who says the economic conditions are good for them because they can offer their goods so cheaply. Many are looking to reverse the decision, which presents opportunities for Bournemouth.
Speed to market is a significant advantage Bournemouth Airport can offer, with it consistently proving quicker to fly goods to Bournemouth and drive them to Heathrow than fly them directly to Heathrow and process cargo there.
For a 15-month period, one client was operating three flights a week to Bournemouth and using belly capacity at Heathrow. The cargo coming from Bournemouth consistently arrived at the London warehouse sooner than the cargo flying into Heathrow.
Establishing the brand
As a brand, Cargo First was established in April last year and there is greater momentum now that people know Bournemouth is a place to do business. Sharing a stand at the air cargo Europe trade fair in Munich in May was hugely beneficial, particularly for marketing European Cargo.
Hill comments, “It is great to work with the Cargo First team and in Munich we were able to market the partnership and exciting concept of using both the carrier and the airport in a unique partnership, certainly no one else in the UK can market themselves in this way.”
She says companies are approaching European Cargo asking about flights into Bournemouth as they realise that there are more options in the UK than Heathrow.
Johnson adds that the Cargo First brand has been successful for raising awareness, particularly for e-commerce goods coming from the Far East. The Cargo First team are receiving enquiries almost daily asking what Bournemouth can offer.
He says, “The recognition is very high which was our target. It is now converting into real flying and with more aircraft due through the conversion process, we are entering an exciting time where we see the level of business growth accelerating.”
Working together, European Cargo and Cargo First want to provide capacity in and out of the UK. On the north side of Bournemouth’s airfield, there is a large business park, the majority within the airport’s ownership, employing around 4,500 people.
Johnson says a key message to clients is how Cargo First can support them beyond flying goods into Bournemouth but also developing distribution centres with a model similar to airports such as Liège and Leipzig/Halle.
The aim is to make Bournemouth Airport the specialist entry point for the UK, especially for e-commerce, which requires speed to market.
Johnson says, “We believe we can do this better than the hub airports around London. In the wider area, we have identified around one million square feet of space with warehousing potential, some of it is airside and a portion is landside. There are opportunities for end clients to generate distribution activities co-located with us, helping them achieve sustainability goals by cutting out unnecessary steps in the journey.”