Record volume of Christmas presents handled by air and rail freight operators in the East Midlands

  • East Midlands Airport’s (EMA) December cargo volumes up 43% up on same month last year
  • Maritime handles record volumes at Rail Freight Interchange
  • Demand for warehousing increased

New figures show the important role the East Midlands played to ensure Christmas was delivered on time. Record volumes of goods were handled by the region’s specialist air and rail operators in the run-up to the festive period.

Much of the demand was driven by consumers who turned to online shopping in a year when lockdowns and restrictions closed many non-essential shops.

EMA’s status as the UK’s most important express air freight operation, and one of Europe’s busiest air cargo hubs, coupled with the rapid investment and growth of SEGRO’s East Midlands Gateway and Maritime’s Rail Freight Interchange, means that the East Midlands boasts multi-modal air, rail and road connectivity serving domestic and global markets. As a result, many of the goods ordered online by people across the UK prior to Christmas arrived in this region, before being transported to homes around the country.

The airport recorded its ‘heaviest’ ever peak season for air cargo. 46,320 tonnes of goods were handled at EMA in December, an increase of 43% compared with the same month in 2019 (32,281). This means that December 2020 was the airport’s heaviest ever month for goods, eclipsing the previous record set in November. This is in complete contrast to the passenger operation which has been reduced to 10% of normal levels due to the impact of the pandemic.

SEGRO, which owns the modern logistics site, East Midlands Gateway, next to the airport, say that trends such as the shift to e-commerce and the rise of new technology were accelerated in 2020 largely due to the pandemic. These have been factors in driving demand for more industrial space. There is little sign of this ebbing away as shoppers continue to buy goods online. Maritime, operators of the Strategic Rail Freight terminal at SEGRO Logistics Park East Midlands Gateway, also saw a rise in freight volume in the second half of the year with an average of 1500 containers a week to and from Felixstowe, London Gateway, Liverpool and Southampton ports moving through their facility.

The strong performance of local logistics operators comes as a bid for an inland Freeport in the East Midlands is being prepared for submission on the 5 February. A focus of the bid is the region’s strengths in multi-modal connectivity and logistics capability.

The East Midlands is at the heart of the country’s major logistics operations. With 90% of the England and Wales population within a four-hour truck drive, the region is the perfect location as an entry and exit point for goods being imported and exported to and from the UK. Given the current UK lockdown, it is anticipated that demand for next-day-deliveries and online shopping will not slow in the immediate future. Operators are expecting a continuation of busy periods in the months ahead.

John Bailey, Maritime Managing Director, said: “Six months ago, our terminal was full of stock that retailers didn’t want and there was little activity throughout the day. To see the operation now processing up to 400 vehicles every 24 hours, keeping customer goods flowing around the UK and rest of the world is deeply satisfying. We are delighted with the facility SEGRO has built us and most importantly the dedication and commitment of our Maritime colleagues and rail partners that have made the operation such a success.”

Andrew Pilsworth, SEGRO National Logistics Managing Director, said: “We have continued to see the demand for well located, modern industrial warehousing rise over the year. The vital role that logistics has played during the ongoing pandemic is clear - be it delivering goods to consumers, continuing to provide employment opportunities or contributing to the UK economy.”

Clare James, East Midlands Airport’s Managing Director, said: “This year has demonstrated the critical importance of the EMA air cargo operation, not just for the movement of consumer items, but for businesses that need to get parts or finished products to market quickly and for the rapid movement of critical medical supplies and equipment throughout the pandemic. While our passengers are temporarily unable to leave home to catch holiday flights, the contribution of the airport to the UK and the region during the last year has been more important than ever.”

Chris Hobson, Director of Policy and External Affairs at East Midlands Chamber of Commerce, said: “The region’s strengths are built on specialisms in logistics and manufacturing. As we look ahead to a post-Covid revival, these cornerstones will provide a platform for economic success in the future and, in particular, if a bid for Freeport status is successful, it will bind some of the key sites that are instrumental to our ability to make and move goods.”