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East Midlands Airport could power 12,000 new UK jobs from growing cargo operation, says report

East Midlands Airport is poised to bolster role in powering UK trade, with tens of thousands of jobs and billions in economic value set to be unlocked by growth in its cargo operation.


A new study has shown EMA has a unique combination of strengths that make it perfectly placed to support increased demand for air freight in the years ahead.


These include its central location and close proximity to major road and rail networks, and the fact that 80% of all large-scale warehouse sites are within 125 miles of EMA.

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It also specialises in the handling of express air freight – carried in dedicated aircraft, not in the “belly” of passenger planes. It is this fastest-growing type of air cargo that is tipped to account for an ever-increasing share of all goods shipped around the world in the years to come.


And EMA has the capacity to accommodate an increase in cargo flights as the economy grows, while other key airports in the market face constraints.


These factors combine to place EMA in a strong position to build on its status as the UK’s most important express air freight hub. A recent example of this growth in action was the move by British cargo airline One Air from Heathrow to East Midlands Airport.

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The study – carried out by specialist air travel consultants York Aviation – says that air cargo growth at EMA will support between £687m and £1.8bn in additional GVA and between 2,700 and 12,600 extra jobs by 2030.

It highlights a number of factors which help EMA stand above competitors and provide a seamless cargo service, including:


  • Its central location and proximity to the national road and rail networks
  • Fewer restrictions around night flying than other airports, enabling an increase in capacity and capability by running a 24-hour operation 
  • The freight it handles is carried in dedicated cargo aircraft, not in the belly-hold of passenger planes as is the case at Heathrow and elsewhere, which for EMA means no flight slot constraints
  • EMA’s single runway with direct access to cargo integrator hubs.


Another advantage is EMA’s proximity to major logistics firms which are often the origins and destinations of air freight. EMA is within 125 miles of 80% of all large-scale warehousing in England and Wales, compared to 53% for Heathrow. More logistics developments close to the airport are expected to add to this in the coming years, with some investors attracted by the Freeport status and incentives attached to some neighbouring sites.

The report also notes that Heathrow’s market share has fallen by 3% between 2012 and 2022, while EMA’s has grown by 7%, indicating that EMA can position itself as a viable alternative to London’s congested and flight slot constrained airports.


EMA currently contributes around £443m GVA to the regional economy, handling around 400,000 tonnes of cargo and 4m passengers every year. EMA’s unrivalled cargo operation handled a 13% increase in demand during the pandemic, with volumes remaining higher than pre-Covid.


The three major cargo integrators – DHL, UPS and Fedex – have their main UK hubs at EMA, providing one-stop connections between the region and more than 180 of the world’s most important economic powerhouses, to the east and west. 


The airport is estimated to be supporting the continued presence of around 100 top corporates in the East Midlands region with a combined turnover of more than £16bn and so is enabling their ongoing contribution to regional GVA. 


EMA’s Managing Director Steve Griffiths said: “This report confirms EMA’s status as the UK’s most important express air freight hub, powering seamless trade for the whole of the country. It highlights how some of our unique attributes, including our central location and ability to offer a 24-hour service, allow us to punch well above our weight.


“What’s really encouraging is that it spells out the potential for EMA to meet growing demand for air cargo as London airports, whose cargo operations rely on passenger flights subject to greater restrictions, become congested and reach capacity. This growth in our share of the air cargo market will add significantly to the substantial contribution we already make to the regional and wider economy.”


Megan Powell Vreeswijk, Chief Exec of Marketing Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, added: “At this pivotal moment, the increase in cargo operations at EMA couldn’t be more timely, bolstering the growth in our inward investment enquiries that are exploring Nottingham/Shire and the wider East Midlands region as the key and vital location for UK operations.


“The findings from York Aviation underscore the indispensable role of the East Midlands in the nation’s economy.”

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