New government data has highlighted Heathrow Airport’s significant contribution to equipping front-line workers and hospitals in their fight against Covid-19.
From January until March this year, Heathrow welcomed 5,269 tonnes of specific medical cargo items urgently needed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Items include hospital equipment, PPE, sterilisation and disinfecting products, medical oxygen, medicines, swabs and test kits, from dedicated cargo carriers like DHL Express or repurposed passenger aircraft.
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A KEY IMPORTER OF CRITICAL EQUIPMENT
In March alone, Heathrow imported nearly 33% (32.9%) of the UK’s critical equipment to fight Covid-19, by value, compared to all UK ports including rail, air and seaports.
Between January and March, Heathrow also welcomed 58% of the UK’s pharmaceutical imports by value, underscoring the airport’s role in keeping open the vital supply lines our healthcare needs.
These figures are set to increase over the next weeks as many airlines have either begun flying freighters — planes designed solely for the purpose of moving cargo into Heathrow — or repurposing passenger aircraft for cargo use.
British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and American Airlines are among the airlines who have re-invented the use of passenger planes by using seats, overhead lockers and the hold to carry vital supplies.
In total, 4,153 cargo-only flights have arrived at Heathrow so far this year, an increase of 304% compared to 2019. As total UK imports are falling, the value of imports through Heathrow continue to increase.
Heathrow Airport served as a channel for 36% of the country’s total imports in terms of value by March, an increase of 20% compared to the same month last year.
John Holland-Kaye, CEO, Heathrow said: “Heathrow is more than just an airport. It is the country’s biggest front door, not only for people, but also the time-critical, sensitive cargo that is essential to the UK’s front- line heroes.”
Elizabeth de Jong, Director of Policy, Freight Transport Association added: “Air cargo has been vital to maintaining the integrity of the UK’s supply chain and helped businesses cope with unprecedented demand in areas including medical supplies, food and other essentials.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has shown the resilience of the UK’s logistics industry, helped in no small part by the flexibility of air operators via Heathrow to release additional capacity to support UK PLC.”
Meanwhile, London Heathrow has begun the trial of thermal screening technology in the Terminal 2 immigration hall to detect elevated temperatures of arriving passengers. As reported, the airport recently vowed to press ahead with the development of a Common International Standard by trialling technologies and processes which reduce the risk of Covid-19.
Learnings from the trials will be shared with the UK government, to drive the creation of the Common International Standard for health screening.
The technology being trialled uses camera detection systems capable of monitoring the temperatures of multiple people moving through the airport. Passengers will be alerted to the trials through signage at the immigration hall, but will otherwise experience no visible change to their arrivals journey, as no other screening methods will be needed. Personal data will not be stored or shared during these trials.
FURTHER ROLL-OUT POSSIBLE
If successful, the equipment may be rolled out across the airport into departures, connections and colleague search areas to further stress-test its capabilities. Heathrow is clear that any measures or technology must satisfy certain tests if it is introduced as mandatory in the future. Measures and technology must satisfy medically grounded science, build confidence among passengers and be practical for airports to deliver.
Temperature screening is part of a wider set of processes and technology to be trialled at Heathrow, which examine how the risk of contracting or transmitting Covid-19 can be reduced while travelling.
From this week, all operational Heathrow colleagues will be wearing face coverings. They will also be distributing face coverings to arriving and departing passengers who do not have their own. This is in addition to the provision of over 600 hand sanitiser stations, enhanced cleaning regimes, prominent signage featuring government health advice, perspex barriers for frontline contact points and social distancing reminders.
Heathrow will also explore the use of UV sanitation to quickly and efficiently sanitise security trays, along with contact-free security screening equipment to reduce person-to-person contact.
The launch of the trials comes as the UK government considers implementing ‘air bridges’ across destinations with low risk of Covid-19. The ‘air bridges’ would protect public health, allow trade to continue between low-risk destinations and enable Heathrow to help kickstart the economy.
Holland-Kaye added: “We welcome the Secretary of State for Transport’s ‘air bridge’ proposals to allow trade to continue between destinations with low Covid-19 risks.
“To unlock the full benefits of aviation for the economy, a Common International Standard for health screening must be agreed by the global authorities. The technology we are trialling could be a part of this solution.
“As one of the world’s great trading nations, the UK should take a lead in setting a global plan to reopen borders, when it is safe to do so. This will help protect millions of British jobs that rely on aviation, but are currently at risk.”