Amazon fly dedicated aircraft into Belfast to fill online orders

The retail giant says the route was established before the coronavirus crisis

‘We use a variety of modes of transport to distribute packages to customers through our European logistics network,’ an Amazon spokeswoman says. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

‘We use a variety of modes of transport to distribute packages to customers through our European logistics network,’ an Amazon spokeswoman says. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

 

Online retail giant Amazon has started operating its own dedicated cargo aircraft to Belfast International Airport to service increasing numbers of internet shoppers in the North.

According to the Freight Transport Association, the airport is not only a gateway for vital medical and pharmaceutical cargo but, with bricks and mortar retailers shut because of coronavirus, the airport is also busy handling more cargo traffic because of the demand from home-shopping channels.

According to Amazon, the route was established before the coronavirus crisis.

“We use a variety of modes of transport to distribute packages to customers through our European logistics network,” a spokeswoman said.

The freight industry group said one of the impacts of Covid-19 has been the increase in home shopping which, it said, illustrates the Belfast airport’s “critical” role as an air cargo hub. Seamus Leheny, its Northern Ireland policy manager, told The Irish Times that Belfast was a “vital freight centre”.

Belfast International and the North’s other two airports, City of Derry and Belfast City, are facing major operational challenges as revenue from commercial flights disappears with flights grounded due to the coronavirus crisis.

‘Belly capacity’

The airport handles up to 50,000 tonnes of air cargo a year and is currently providing a 24-hour operation that facilitates up to 16 aircraft arrivals each night. Because “belly capacity” for cargo has dipped sharply with the grounding of passenger flights, there are additional pressures on dedicated freight services.

Mr Leheny said it was important that the airport “continue unhindered” given its service and contribution to the North’s economy.

Karen Dee, chief executive of the UK Airport Operators Association, warned that some airports could “shut down in weeks” unless the UK government stepped in to support them.

“Without passengers, an airport cannot run sustainably,” she said, “ yet it is vital for lifeline services, freight and other critical services.”

Two passenger flights

There are only two passenger flights still in operation between Northern Ireland and Britain.

A spokeswoman for Belfast International said the airport “remains open and appropriately staffed 24/7 throughout the present Covid-19 crisis”.

“Belfast International Airport continues to play its permanent and pivotal role as Northern Ireland’s essential airbridge provider, in anticipation of the earliest possible return to normal overall service.”

The North’s Executive has urged the UK secretary of state for transport, Grant Shapps, to urgently “put in place support” for Northern Ireland’s airports and ports.