RiverOak Strategic Partners





RiverOak Strategic Partners

Manston: an airfreight hub for London & the Southeast

Manston Airport is a unique and important transport infrastructure asset. An illustrious history as a Battle of Britain airfield and an exciting future as a vibrant hub for international airfreight, delivering economic prosperity and employment across Kent and protecting a strategic aviation resource for the nation.

RSP’s proposals for the redevelopment of Manston Airport as a dedicated airfreight hub have now been approved by the UK Government as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project.

Once reopened, Manston will help the UK trade across the globe, importing vital and time-sensitive goods, including fresh fruit and medical supplies, providing air freight operators with a realistic alternative to the overcrowded London airports, easing the considerable road congestion caused by lorries carrying freight through the channel tunnel to European airports and improving resilience and boost economic growth and jobs in Kent.

Manston Airport is also unique in that it is deliverable; it will be ready to open its initial phase in less than three years. Upon opening it will:

  • Immediately absorb the increased demand for air cargo post COVID and Brexit and relieving capacity pressure on key London airports as they focus on passenger markets.
  • Provide an operating base for UK traffic currently lost to EU airports and create future capacity to meet global freight growth, adapting to changing market requirements using the latest technology.

When fully built, Manston will be able to handle in excess of a million tonnes of freight a year.

The Development Consent Order – granted August 2022

The Government has granted the Development Consent Order because our plans for Manston are consistent with all relevant Government policies, including the Airports National Policy Statement, the Aviation Policy Framework, General Aviation strategy and Transport Decarbonisation Plan, and recognising the contribution Manston will make to resilience in UK’s under-pressure freight transport sector.

In addition, Manston will make a significant contribution to the decarbonisation of aviation and so is aligned with the Government’s 2022 Jet Zero consultation outcomes.

The Government-approved Development Consent Order provides consent for:

  • 19 widebody parking stands
  • 4 narrow body passenger stands 65,000m2 (750,000ft2) of cargo terminal
  • 100 ha of non-aircraft pavement (247 acres)
  • 57 ha (140 acres) of aircraft pavement 105,000m2
  • (1.1m ft2) of landside development
  • 8 business aviation hangers
  • 3 recycling hangars and aprons

Securing flight procedures for Manston

Before Manston can reopen, new air routes must be approved through an airspace change process set out in the Civil Aviation Publication (CAP) 1616. The process consists of seven stages and the Manston Airport proposal has already reached Stage 3.

RSP has developed a number of options for the flight procedures that will be required when the airport re-opens. These options will be subject to a full public consultation, which is currently programmed for early 2023.

Following this consultation, we will be able to submit our proposal to the CAA for consideration, with a decision expected during the course of 2024.

Why Manston?

1.       The global air cargo market is growing 

Ecommerce giants are transforming the air freight market, with their share of total sales reaching 25% very soon.

This is inspiring the growth of specialist freighter hubs. By way of an example, Amazon now has 85 aircraft with a further five on order and are expected to have 200 by 2028. In Europe alone, Amazon is making 38 daily flights serving eight cities.

2.       The UK is reliant on air cargo for economic growth and resilience

Maximising international import/export, post-Brexit and post-COVID, is critical to the UK economy and the UK economy is increasingly reliant on airfreight to achieve this. Air cargo provides the immediacy that the UK relies upon for perishables, medicines and other time-sensitive goods

Dedicated freighters carry over 50% of the world’s air cargo. Airframe manufacturer Boeing forecasts global freighter fleet to grow more than 60% to 3,260 over the next two decades.

Prior to COVID, more than £2 billion was lost to the London and Southeast England economy each year due to air freight diverted to Europe due to lack of capacity. Dedicated freighters could not find suitable slots anywhere in London and the Southeast – leading to 70% of freight flying belly hold in passenger aircraft.

COVID has reinforced the cargo sector – and created a cultural shift that underpins the Manston strategy. One key observation from the COVID-19 crisis has been the importance of main deck freighters in airplane fleets and the global air transportation system. Freight use of passenger slots is unsustainable and inefficient, and many passenger airports lack air freight facilities.

In terms of the security of the UK economy, it is clear that cargo hubs can increase our resilience as an island nation: COVID-19 showed increasing critical importance of dedicated air cargo in protecting supply chain dependability.

3.       Manston has capacity for growth

Manston has a strategically useful location by road, rail freight, air – and water. It has a full length, existing runway 2,748m (9,016 feet), capable of handling all widebody freighters and with a phased construction plan already developed it can be ready to open in under three years.

In addition, it benefits from proximity to (but remains just outside of) London and Southeast airspace.

The airspace over London and the Southeast is among the busiest and most congested in Europe – with the exception of the airspace over Manston. The London Terminal Manoeuvring Area (LTMA), west of Manston, handles aircraft using Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, Southend and London City airports – plus Biggin Hill and Farnborough airfields.

The airspace above Manston is much less congested, with aircraft at a much higher altitude. It also has capacity for significant future growth.

Airfreight – unable to access slots within the LTMA – is regularly trucked through the Channel Tunnel or via ferry to airports in mainland Europe to fly long-haul. The challenges of Brexit have motivated UK importers and exporters look for alternatives to the practice of trucking through the Channel crossings to and from airports in Northern Europe. From 2025 they will instead be able to direct their business to Manston as the only airport offering substantial numbers of slots and capacity.

4.       Other London and Southeast airports cannot handle the increased demand for dedicated freighters

Boeing categorises congestion in London airports as serious. The existing London airport runways will soon be back at capacity, and they are prioritising passenger traffic over freight movements. 

  • Heathrow’s third runway was first proposed in 2006 but will take at least another decade to deliver
  • Stansted Airport has been granted consent to reduce cargo movements in favour of increased pax movements
  • Passenger traffic growth will absorb almost all UK runway capacity
  • Current closest alternative cargo airport with realistic capacity is three hours’ drive from the London M25 orbital motorway

In addition, there are extreme difficulties in obtaining planning consents for new airports in the UK. So the solution to the capacity crisis can only realistically come from an airport adjacent to, but outside of the London Airport system that is already built and can be ready to go quickly.

5.       Manston will be built to be Carbon Net Zero

Aviation, and in particular the cargo sector, is not a luxury that the UK economy can live without and so it is incumbent on airlines, airport operators and governments to work together to protect its vital role in the economy, whilst simultaneously striving towards sustainability.

The Government has made it clear that it requires ‘high innovation’ of aviation to meet carbon reduction targets – something which we have willingly committed to delivering within the terms of the DCO, based upon the significant levels of investment, innovation and testing on alternative aviation fuels and technologies underway in the global aviation community.

The facilities at Manston will be built to make an active contribution to Government carbon reduction targets, with the aim that airport operations are Carbon Net Zero operation by 2035 through the use of smart and energy efficient buildings, the use of electric apron vehicles and autonomous vehicle technology to drive efficiency, the lack of airspace congestion above Manston and much more.

 In addition, we are also exploring how we can best utilise the airport’s river connections into central London, the use of bio/synthetic fuel, hydrogen and charging for electric aircraft and whether we would be able to provide any renewable energy surplus to the local community.

Building a strong economic future for Kent

Manston will deliver sustainable economic growth and opportunity in a UK gateway region, supporting regional regeneration, inward investment and employment targets. By Year 5 we forecast 2,150 jobs on the airport site and 13,100 indirect/catalytic jobs.

RSP is meeting with a wide range of other potential partners and stakeholders across Thanet and East Kent to explore opportunities and develop partnerships that will bring additional benefits to local people from our commitment to reopening the airport.

The airport will provide focused training and career development for students and adult learners through progressive education and business partnerships, building on the work established by the Manston Skills and Employment Board (MSE-B) to ensure people from East Kent have the right skills to take the wide range of jobs that will be created by the reopening of Manston.

The MSE-Board considers the future employment and skills needs of the airport following DCO approval, from planning and construction through to operation.

The aim of the MSE-B is to ensure that Manston and associated businesses will have access to well-trained and experienced potential employees across a diverse range of skillsets. The MSE-B will do this by ensuring a comprehensive range of services are available to young people, job seekers and employers in the area around the airport.

In addition to RSP, the MSE-B membership currently includes representatives from:

  • Thanet District Council
  • Dover District Council
  • Canterbury City Council
  • Kent County Council
  • EKC Group
  • Canterbury Christ Church University/EDGE Hub
  • Kent and Medway Skills Commission
  • The Education People
  • Jobcentre Plus
  • Discovery Park
  • Thanet and East Kent Chamber of Commerce

Board representation is available to unrepresented local councils and business sectors.

Manston is the right solution, in the right location, at the right time



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