The Scottish Government aim for airfreight is: “To help achieve the commitment in the National Transport Strategy to promote efficient and sustainable freight transport.”

The final section of the discussion document set out a number of actions designed to help achieve the commitment in the Scottish Government’s National Transport Strategy to promote efficient and sustainable freight transport, and views were sought on what else the Scottish Government could do to help achieve this aim.

Q22. What more, if anything, do you think the Scottish Government can do to help promote efficient and sustainable airfreight transport?

Several respondents simply stated that they were supportive of the proposals and aspirations set out in the discussion document in relation to freight:

Enabling and supporting Scotland’s air freight sector will support new international connectivity to established and emerging markets.”
(Business Representative Body)

Safeguarding (and better understanding) freight travel in remote and fragile island economies in particular was seen as essential:

Review the crucial role of airfreight to many businesses in the Highlands and Islands, and to work with Scottish Government and HIE to understand how changes may reduce both the cost of airfreight, but also improve the logistics and timescales involved.”
(Local Authority/Public Body)

The Highlands and Islands was cited as a region that would benefit significantly from enhanced airfreight capacity and operations, with both online and workshop contributors highlighting that the increases in online shopping may make this increasingly commercially viable. Delivery of freight to Scotland’s large airports with onward distribution to regional hubs (including island airports), either by drone or electric/hybrid aircraft was welcomed. This had the added advantage of dramatically reducing HGV traffic on small local roads, it was pointed out. Workshop delegates also suggested that the Scottish Government could ask UK Government to ensure the CAA has the capacity necessary to enable use of UAVs (drones) and the required airspace change.

The use of SAF was also seen as potentially benefitting freight aviation more than passenger aviation:

… the air freight sector, which tends to use older aircraft and work to different business models, will also benefit hugely from the introduction of SAF, at higher volumes and at competitive prices. SAF works in existing aircraft engines, it does not require significant new airport infrastructure, and will play a major role in decarbonising both commercial and cargo aviation in the years and decades ahead.”
(Aviation and associated industries (including representative bodies))

Financial penalties and rewards were again suggested, i.e. offering tax relief for activities relating to sustainable low-carbon airfreight and imposing levies on carbon-based airfreight:

Incentivisation of appropriate airfreight could be achieved by the [Scottish Government] through taxation or environmental consideration ensuring that freight is carried by the most appropriate mode, relative to its value, urgency and carbon impact, also including consideration of capacity within scheduled passenger flights.”
(Transport Partnership)

There was support for re-establishing pre-COVID passenger routes which also carried freight.

Several comments were made (both in online responses and at the workshop) about seeking ways to reduce Scotland’s reliance on English airports to act as transit points in the transport of freight to/from Scotland. There were opportunities for a significant increase in the amount of freight being flown from Scottish airports, it was suggested as currently, large volumes travel by road to England and is then flown out, particularly through Heathrow:

Scotland’s economy faces the challenge of geographical peripherality, and it is therefore vital that its freight transport and logistics links are organised and structured to prevent this geographical peripherality becoming an economic challenge.”
(Aviation and associated industries (including representative bodies))

A reasonable number of respondents (of different types) stressed that alternative modes, e.g. rail and water, should be considered ahead of air freight as a way of minimising both costs and emissions:

In most cases there will be road/rail/ferry alternatives which will be both cheaper and have far less environmental adverse impact.”

Others indicated that while they welcomed moves to support and enable air freight to the benefit of Scottish airports, expansion should not be at the cost of increased carbon emissions.

A small number of respondents explained that, while they welcomed use of spare capacity on scheduled passenger flights for freight travel, they would wish to see purely freight flights being minimised.

A small number urged consideration of ways to improve the road and rail infrastructure to support efficient and sustainable airfreight transport:

With Scotland too far north to be a main port of call, it is therefore reliant on quality road and rail links to these hubs. Improving Scotland’s aviation and shipping supply chain is not exclusively about airports and ports in Scotland.”
(Aviation and associated industries (including representative bodies))

A specific recommendation was made to support development of airport facilities/infrastructure where this could enable improved air freight connectivity for Scotland. A suggestion was also made to consider expansion of air freight routes and introduce policies that support the development of new and existing airport cargo terminals:

Alongside passenger route development - of which freight can play a role - the Scottish Government should look to work with businesses to identify specific freight routes that can help support firms build upon existing trade patterns and open up new export opportunities.”
(Business Representative Body)

There were mixed views in relation to drone use for moving freight. Some organisations offered support for the innovative use of this technology (albeit the volume of freight to be transported may restrict this option in some cases) while others (mainly individuals) did not support increased drone use (mainly due to concerns around noise and practicalities linked to bad weather):

For new smaller air freight movements again there are opportunities to lead the way in the development/deployment of zero-emission unmanned / small sized zero emission aircraft.”
(Aviation and associated industries (including representative bodies))

Again, if developed, use of unmanned aircraft for freight may be particularly beneficial for remote communities, it was suggested:

The paper rightly notes that developments in unmanned aircraft may create new opportunities in air freight. Given the potential improvement in service to remote communities these could offer, the Government should support the trial and deployment of new types of aircraft in Scotland. This could be through grant funding as well as in the planning system.”
(Aviation and associated industries (including representative bodies))

A small number of individual respondents urged restricting or stopping night-time flights and the consideration of increasing freight travel during the day, to minimise health and social impacts (e.g. night time noise disturbance, etc.):

Currently many of the aircraft used for air freight are older and much noisier than many passenger aircraft and their timings can often cause disruption to the local community… Newer aircraft should be incentivised which would reduce emissions and noise levels.
(Organisation, Other)

Other very specific suggestions for the strategy to consider in relation to freight, put forward by just one or two respondents each, included:

  • policies that focus on the implementation of a fully Digitised Single Window as part of the eFreight concept, that allows for agile Border Control Management that promotes and facilitates exports and imports (e.g. veterinary, phytosanitary, trading standards, prohibitions/restrictions);
  • policies that focus on removing or reducing unnecessary cross border trade barriers including aviation and non-aviation areas;
  • development of trade relationships through free trade agreements;
  • ensuring Scottish airports make provision in their masterplans for future air freight growth;
  • incentivising freight forwarders to establish a Scottish-based presence and operations; and
  • working with growing e-commerce airlines as well as existing integrators to develop links to Scotland.

Some suggested that it was necessary to provide clarity and support to allow airports to develop the facilities required for sustainable air freight (with suggestions that there was currently very little understanding of the air freight sector among some parties). Others simply urged continued and ongoing working between the Scottish Government and other relevant stakeholders in taking forward this part of the strategy. It was suggested (both in online responses and during the workshop) that a wider discussion involving all freight modes, not just aviation, and freight forwarders was needed in order to deliver real change:

Scotland’s businesses recognise that there are significant opportunities for increasing the amount of freight being flown to and from Scottish airports and it’s vital the Scottish Government work with businesses to ensure that goods leaving or bound for Scotland arrive here as quickly as possible to reduce supply chain challenges and speed up the transport of goods… [Organisation] supports calls to establish an export working group to enable government, producers, freight forwarders and airports to collectively shape a freight forwarding model that would deliver for industry.”
(Business Representative Body)

Finally, workshop attendees noted that other parts of the Scottish Government were also interested in increasing direct exports from Scotland, and the Aviation Strategy and associated policies must be joined up going forwards.

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