Air Transport World

Reclaiming the crown: BAA used a special task force to help London regain its position as Europe's No. 1 air cargo hub.

Surrounded of by three major international airports, one of which is billed as "the world's busiest," the natural assumption would seem to be that London would rate as the top air-cargo hub for Europe, more or less automatically.

Not necessarily.

There was a time when London truly was Europe's premier hub for air cargo. However, in the late 1960s and early '70s, it was relegated to third place, behind Frankfurt and Paris, a position it held until 1984, when it overtook the latter and became No. 2. Last year, London finally overtook Frankfurt to regain the No. 1 ranking.

The resurgence actually began in 1982, when BAA, which runs Heathrow and other U.K. airports, formed the London Cargo Promotion Group, a task force created with the goal of "improving the London air-cargo product and reestablishing the London airport system of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted as Europe's premier cargo gateway." It was designed particularly to counteract the loss of transshipment cargo traffic to Frankfurt, Paris and also to Amsterdam.

The task force comprises more than 25 leaders in the London area air-cargo community, including Customs, the airlines, freight forwarders and shippers, associations and unions. It is led by the cargo managers at the three airports and is chaired by Ian M. Robinson, BAA head of cargo development.

When the task force was formed, a position paper was issued outlining 29 key objectives designed to improve the air-cargo products offered by Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports.

Of those objectives, 18 have been achieved, three are partially achieved and eight are still outstanding. A second position paper outlining the achievements and reiterating needs and objectives is being prepared and will be released soon. The task force is composed of subgroups of research, marketing and operations, with the latter primarily aimed at improving the efficiency of cargo operations at the London airports, "clearing out bottlenecks and improving conditions in facilitation," Robinson said.

One of the major success in that area was creation of the London Cargo Promise, in which the industry committed itself to improve service through better communications with its customers, according to Tony Astor, Stansted cargo manager. This program established industrywide service standards such as setting definite time limits for clearing cargo to assure shippers and consignees that their cargo is cleared on time, he said.

A performance standards committee, supported by more than 30 U.K. and international companies providing air and ground handling at the three airports, was established to monitor adherence to the goals outlined in the program. …

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