Today, U.K.-based Virgin Atlantic Cargo and Atlanta-based Delta Cargo announced that both of the carriers, as part of their joint venture, will move into a new cargo facility housed within the dnata City East building at London Heathrow (LHR). The move into the facility, which will include modern technology and double the carriers’ space for cargo operations at the airport, is scheduled for the second half of 2019.
The carriers’ facility at the off-airport dnata City East building will be located opposite the Heathrow Cargo Terminal and adjacent to the airport’s southern perimeter road, which will provide quick access to the airport’s operational areas, while increasing the size for the carriers’ cargo operations at LHR to 335,000 square feet.
Some of the new technologies in cargo operations at the facility include use of mobile devices by staff to manage the flow of cargo, as well as a double-train elevating transfer vehicle (ETV) system, which will increase storage capacity to 24 positions for pallets and containers. A new door management system will enable drivers to complete paperwork at the gatehouse on arrival without leaving their vehicles, and will then immediately assign drivers to one of the facility’s 18 cargo doors, rather than requiring them to take time to find an available pick-up point for cargo.
The new location will also include temperature-controlled services for biopharmaceuticals and life science products, as well as a space for perishables and an enlarged center for live animals (AVI).
“Moving into dnata City East will… not only double our capacity at Heathrow and provide space to grow, [but will also allow] use [of] new technologies and automation to simplify and improve our customer experience,” said Tania Boyes, director of cargo operations at Virgin Atlantic.
Virgin and Delta’s cargo operations in the U.K. have been aligned under one roof since June 2016. The carriers also share cargo facilities at major U.S. gateways, including Atlanta, Boston, Miami, New York, Orlando and Washington Dulles. Virgin Atlantic Cargo gained pharma authorization at Heathrow last year, while Delta extended its track-and-trace unit load device (ULD) services outside the physical boundaries of airports for its global operations.
For Heathrow Airport, the carriers’ move signals continued reshuffling of cargo operations at the airport overall, as airport authorities have been working to alleviate congestion caused by limited capacity at the airport. Last year, groups including the Freight Transport Association (FTA), the British International Freight Association (BIFA) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) advocated for a third runway expansion at LHR, which was ultimately approved by Parliament in June 2018, and is scheduled for construction beginning in 2021. Relieving cargo congestion at LHR is critical both to support growing cargo demands at the airport, as well as ensuring it remains competitive in the region.