New UK Government data reveals the significant role Heathrow Airport has played in equipping front-line workers and hospitals in their fight against COVID-19. From January until March this year, Heathrow welcomed 5,269 tonnes of specific medical cargo items urgently needed in the COVID-19 pandemic, including hospital equipment, PPE, sterilisation and disinfecting products, medical oxygen, medicines, swabs and test kits from dedicated cargo carriers like DHL Express or repurposed passenger aircraft. In March alone, Heathrow imported nearly 33% (32.9%) of the UK’s critical equipment to fight COVID-19, by value.
Over January to March this year, Heathrow also welcomed 58% of the UK’s pharmaceutical imports by value, underscoring the airport’s role in keeping open vital supply lines.
These figures are set to increase as many airlines have either begun flying freighters, planes designed solely for the purpose of moving cargo into Heathrow, or repurposing passenger aircraft for cargo use. British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and American Airlines are just some of the airlines that have reinvented the use of passenger planes by using seats, overhead lockers and the hold to carry vital supplies. In total, 4,153 cargo-only flights have arrived at Heathrow so far this year – an increase of 304% compared to 2019.
This has meant that, even as total UK imports are falling, the value of imports through Heathrow continue to increase. Heathrow was the conduit for 36% of the country’s total imports by value by March – an increase of 20% compared with the same month last year.
“Heathrow is more than just an airport – it is the country’s biggest front door, not only for people, but also the time-critical, sensitive cargo that is essential to the UK’s front-line heroes,” says John Holland-Kaye, CEO Heathrow. “The Secretary of State for Transport’s proposals for a potential risk-based ‘air bridge’ will allow trade to continue between low-risk destinations, protect the public health and enable Heathrow to play its part in kickstarting the nation’s economic recovery. Ministers have taken a responsible step and we will continue to work with them to beat COVID-19 and return the UK economy to health once more.”
Commenting on the latest figures, Elizabeth de Jong, Director of Policy, Freight Transport Association (FTA), adds: “Air cargo has been vital to maintaining the integrity of the UK’s supply chain, and helped businesses cope with unprecedented demand in areas including medical supplies, food and other essentials. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the resilience of the UK’s logistics industry, helped in no small part by the flexibility of air operators via Heathrow to release additional capacity to support UK plc.”