European Cargo elevating Bournemouth Airport into a key freight hub

European Cargo's impact on Bournemouth extends beyond the confines of a local airport

European Cargo elevating Bournemouth Airport into a key freight hub
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In the realm of air freight, European Cargo emerges as a significant player with its distinctive fleet of Airbus A340 long-haul freighter planes. Beyond transporting goods, it has been instrumental in reshaping Bournemouth International Airport (BOH) into a reliable, cost-effective hub for air freight. This story delves into how European Cargo's operations have shaped the airport's identity, exploring its aircraft, a unique cargo system, alongside Bournemouth Airport’s cargo hub, Cargo First to position it as a thriving cargo centre. It's more than just flights; it's a tale of how a cargo airline's efforts can elevate an airport to a prominent role in global air freight.

Responsive approach

European Cargo’s journey began in the tumultuous year of 2020, marked by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. It responded swiftly, adapting the operations to address the UK's medical supplies crisis. Originally designed for specific freight needs, European Cargo expanded its services to handle a diverse range of air cargo, including perishables and e-commerce. Central to this adaptability is the unique main deck cargo pod system, showcasing European Cargo's commitment to providing agile and effective solutions during challenging times.

Airbus A340's cargo pod system

At the core of European Cargo's operations is the Airbus A340-600, a long-haul freighter aircraft renowned for its capability of non-stop flights over extended distances. Operating routes globally, this aircraft symbolises European Cargo's dedication to global connectivity. With a maximum payload of 76 tonnes and a cargo capacity of 440 cbm, the A340-600 ensures efficiency in air cargo transportation. European Cargo has a fleet of hybrid long-range freighters. These planes were once for passengers but got changed to carry cargo. It has a special cargo pod system on the upper deck and room for 14 pallets plus more on the lower deck. It can travel over 5,000 nautical miles with a full load. In December 2022, European Cargo was certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) for turning passenger planes into freighters. At present, the fourth plane is almost done, and it plans to finish six more by the end of 2023 and four more in 2024.

Diving into the technical details, the upper deck's cargo volume and weight capacities, with 237cbm and 40,690kg respectively, play a crucial role in efficiently moving various cargo types. This unique cargo pod system has become a hallmark of European Cargo's operations, providing the flexibility to transport a diverse array of goods precisely.

European Cargo’s fleet

It comprises former Virgin Atlantic and Etihad Airbus A340 passenger aircraft. Its first conversion is an ex-Virgin A340-600, once the world’s longest airliner stretching to 75.4m or 247 feet and capable of carrying up to 370 passengers. The conversion process involved the removal of all bulkheads, rear galley and toilets and replacing them with 39 pods in six different sizes. Each pod has a fire containment bag around it, specially tested to endure a lithium battery fire for six and a half hours.

Since April 2023, these planes have been flying between Bournemouth International Airport and Chengdu International Airport (CTU), helping with the higher demand for cross-border online shopping. The airport in Bournemouth is perfect for cargo because it's easy to work from there, and it connects to London in just 90 minutes. Currently, European Cargo has 12 planes in its fleet. Its impact is not confined to a local scale but resonates globally, showcasing the airline's significance in the broader context of international air freight. European Cargo says it has a waiting list of freight customers and sees considerable growth opportunities with e-commerce, with global volumes predicted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to double from 131 billion parcels in 2021 to 260 billion in 2025.

European Cargo also marked its inaugural flight from Harstad/Narvik Airport in Evenes (EVE) to London Heathrow (LHR), showcasing a groundbreaking approach to traditional seafood transportation. The milestone collaboration with Perishable Center Nord AS (PCN) exemplifies innovation in cargo services. PCN specialises in organising, developing, and marketing cargo operations, leveraging partnerships for services such as fueling, aircraft maintenance, transhipping, warehousing, and logistics. This strategic alliance not only transforms the seafood supply chain but also marks a significant shift in air freight dynamics, emphasising efficiency and reliability in the movement of perishable goods between EVE and LHR.

Cargo First by Bournemouth Airport

Cargo First is a special service at Bournemouth Airport. It was started in April 2022, wanting to make the airport the fastest-growing cargo hub in the UK. Both Bournemouth Airport and Cargo First are part of the UK’s privately-owned Regional and City Airports (RCA) group, which also owns Coventry Airport, Exeter Airport and Norwich Airport. RCA also operates the XLR Executive Jet Centre FBO facilities at Birmingham, Bournemouth, Exeter and Liverpool airports. Cargo First is in a perfect spot to send cargo to many places in north-west Europe, like France and Germany.

The unique collaboration: European Cargo and Cargo First

In November 2023, Bournemouth Airport's Cargo First boosted the number of flights between Bournemouth and China, increasing from three to nine flights per week with European Cargo adding a third plane to the route. With the rise to nine flights a week, the route can now handle nearly 700 tonnes of imports every week. This route is solely managed by European Cargo, utilising their fleet of all-cargo Airbus A340 wide-bodied freighters, each capable of carrying up to 76 tonnes. The route has become a vital link for e-commerce, connecting Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport in China to Bournemouth Airport in the UK. This development underscores Bournemouth's growing role as a cost-effective and less crowded option compared to major hub airports, gaining trust from Chinese online retailers in the well-established UK e-commerce market. The partnership between European Cargo and Cargo First, both part of the Regional and City Airports (RCA) group, shows the dedication of the UK's biggest freighter operator to broaden its services until 2024.

The e-commerce route's significance is further demonstrated by a cargo development agreement signed between Sichuan Province Airport Group Company and Regional & City Airports during a reciprocal trade mission in August. The agreement aims to establish a stable logistics channel for the import and export of e-commerce goods, reinforcing Bournemouth's role in facilitating efficient customs clearance and onward travel within the UK.

European Cargo’s chief executive David Kerr said, “In the push to improve choice and service for UK consumers, we are delighted to expand our capabilities with our mutual customer. By partnering with Cargo First and the team at Bournemouth to provide effective solutions into the supply chains of expanding online retailers, we have grown our repertoire.”

Speaking about Cargo First and European Cargo’s collaborative handling operations, Cllr Philip Broadhead, Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Development, Growth and Regeneration, Bournemouth earlier said in a release, “The combination of European Cargo’s freight capacity and Cargo First’s efficient handling operation means Bournemouth is well placed to attract more business from the congested hub airports around London.”

In the seamless integration of technological innovation, diverse fleets, strategic partnerships, and global outreach, European Cargo's operations have indeed been the catalyst in transforming Bournemouth International Airport. The collaborative efforts showcased in this exploration underscore the potential of the air cargo industry to evolve, adapt, and thrive in the face of changing demands and challenges. European Cargo's impact on Bournemouth extends beyond the confines of a local airport, portraying itself as a key player in the global air freight landscape. This narrative not only summarises the journey of European Cargo and Bournemouth International Airport but also serves as an indication of the flexibility and adaptability of the air cargo industry as a whole.

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