Why Is East Midlands Airport Such A Significant Cargo Hub?

When it comes to passenger traffic, East Midlands was the UK’s 14th busiest airport before coronavirus hit. It serves various European destinations, but nearby Birmingham is the Midlands’ hub for longer-haul traffic. However, where East Midlands excels is in terms of cargo.

But why does this small, low-cost and leisure-based airport attract so much airfreight?

A selection of aircraft at the airport’s cargo facility. Photo: East Midlands Airport

A brief history of the airport

East Midlands Airport is situated close to Derby and Nottingham, with Leicester also not far to the south. It began life in the Second World War as RAF Castle Donington, which opened in 1943.

After three years of operations, this facility closed in 1946, a year after the conflict ended. This saw the RAF station at the site decommissioned.

19 years later, in 1965, it reopened as a commercial airport for passengers following investment from local authorities. The new East Midlands Airport (EMA) also played host to British Midland‘s head office until 1982.

Another airline to have a strong presence at East Midlands was Go Fly, a BA low-cost subsidiary that easyJet acquired in 2002. EMA has had several ownership changes in the 56 years since it opened to passengers. The first of these took place in 1993, when National Express purchased the airport from the local authorities.

Since 2001, it has been owned by Manchester Airports Group.

Why Is East Midlands Airport Such A Significant Cargo Hub?

Visits from rare cargo aircraft like the Antonov An-124 make East Midlands a popular location for planespotters. Photo: Getty Images

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An ideal, central location

While EMA is only the UK’s 14th-busiest by passenger traffic, it ranks an impressive second when it comes to cargo. It only falls behind London Heathrow in this category, making it the UK’s busiest cargo hub located outside the capital.

The reason for its strength in this field is its central location in England. The airport’s website explains that:

Being only a four-hour truck drive to 90% of the population of England and Wales, EMA is perfectly positioned to ensure goods flown in and out of the country are with customers who need them most urgently.”

The facility handles a reported 440,000 tonnes of cargo every year. These goods can be flown into EMA on large aircraft like freight-configured Boeing 747s, owing to its 2,893-meter long runway.

Its owner, Manchester Airports Group, adds that it is “the UK’s busiest ‘pure’ cargo airport,” which “supports a vibrant cargo logistics operation 24/7.”

Why Is East Midlands Airport Such A Significant Cargo Hub?

EMA’s central location makes it ideal for onward distribution by road. Image: Google Maps

Which carriers serve East Midlands?

East Midlands is a key hub for worldwide logistics giants like UPS and DHL. On a more local scale, its hub status also extends to carriers like West Atlantic UK and ASL Airlines Ireland.

Meanwhile, it is also a focus destination for CargoLogicAir, RVL Aviation, and ASL Airlines UK. RadarBox.com shows that DHL partner EAT Leipzig also serves EMA. As far as passenger-carrying flights are concerned, low-cost and leisure operators dominate the airport. Jet2, Ryanair, and TUI all serve dozens of European destinations from East Midlands on both a year-round and seasonal basis.

Aurigny, BH Air, Blue Islands, and easyJet also have a presence at the airport, each serving a single destination. Did you know about East Midlands’ key role as a cargo hub? Have you ever flown to or from the airport as a passenger?

Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!