Green light for Manston air cargo hub

Manston's passenger terminal, as it was in 2013. (Photo: Mick Dodsworth)

Manston Airport, closed since 2014, has moved a step closer to reopening after the UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) approved its redevelopment as an international air cargo hub, which will also be available for passenger traffic. Construction will begin in 2021 with the airport expected to operate its first cargo services in the first quarter of 2023.

The landowner, RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP), confirmed the government’s decision to grant the necessary Development Consent Order (DCO) on July 9.

Manston (previously IATA: MSE) is in the southeast tip of England and has one of the longest runways in the UK at 9,016ft (2,748m). For a short time, it was rebranded as Manston, Kent International Airport, before being closed by its previous owner in 2014.

RSP said Manston’s redevelopment would create over 23,000 jobs across East Kent and the wider national economy by the airport’s 20th year of operation.

A statement from the land owners explained: “The COVID-19 virus has demonstrated the fragility and inflexibility of the UK’s air cargo network, which relies almost exclusively on passenger aircraft to carry freight, as well as the urgent need to keep air freight going. It is widely accepted that demand for passenger air travel will take a number of years to return to pre-pandemic levels, if it ever does, and so building the UK’s specialist freight capacity has become even more vital.” RSP added that it had “committed to an investment of £300 million to rebuild Manston as a global freight hub, which will enable the airport to fulfil its role in helping the UK trade across the globe and to import vital and time-sensitive goods, including fresh fruit and medical supplies.

“As the global economy starts to re-energise and the UK, separated from the EU, negotiates trade deals around the world, Manston will be in a position to address this gap in the UK’s trading infrastructure, providing dedicated air freight capacity adjacent to the London Airports System, free of the uncertainties that face airports reliant solely, or predominantly, on the income from passenger traffic.

Tony Freudmann, director of RSP added: “Once built, Manston will be one of the most modern, efficient and environmentally friendly freight hubs in the world, able to cater for traditional freight as well as the rapidly expanding international e-commerce sector that the UK has so heavily relied upon during the period of lock down.

“It is not lost on RSP how much support we have received from the Thanet and East Kent community and from our two dedicated local MPs, Sir Roger Gale and Craig Mackinlay, since the start of the DCO process.