Ruby
 

Welcome to our new Heathrow export facility

By: Dave Gunner

October 1, 2019

When flight VS 3 took off to New York on Wednesday 25 September, it was carrying 12,500 kilos of cargo consisting of paintings, pharmaceuticals, fresh peppers, frozen salmon, mail, garments and eCommerce goods. Nothing terribly unusual about any of that. What makes this flight special is it was the first flight loaded from our brand-new cargo export facility at Heathrow.

Watching the pallets roll out onto the trucks and away to the aircraft were our Heathrow cargo operations manager Ben Crump and director of cargo operations Tania Boyes. After two years of planning and a few busy weeks of moving into the new building, this was a big moment for Tania, Ben and the team. And it all went exactly according to plan with the first shipment leaving precisely on time.

Called Dnata City East, our new export building is a state-of-the-art facility that brings considerable benefits to everyone who uses it. That includes the drivers who deliver the cargo, our cargo customers and our people who work there. The facility is part of the cargo village on the south side of the airport and was built and is leased by our cargo partners dnata.

Tanya checks out the new pet facility

Ben, loving cargo

Air cargo plays a massive role in modern life with businesses, homes and sometimes lives depending on it. Many urgent, high value or perishable goods travel this way, including your favourite technology, the clothes on your back and the food on your plate. On a visit to the cargo sheds, you can find anything from a vintage Ferrari on its way to a car show in Miami to frozen fish going from Scotland to a restaurant in Boston. It’s a fascinating world and one that few people get to see.

For drivers arriving with freight, there’s a new and much quicker process to check it in at the gatehouse. Customers can even book a delivery in advance.  We have twice as many unloading bays now, so waiting times will be much lower, but if they’re all busy, drivers will receive a text when their allocated bay is free.

The freight is unloaded and weighed at one of the 18 delivery doors before going through security screening. It’s then built up into pallets or containers before being brought together with the rest of the freight for that particular flight and ultimately loaded onto the lorries to go out to the aircraft. If that sounds simple, it’s anything but.

Weight distribution on an aircraft is critical to flight safety. Each flight is different and needs to be loaded in a very precise manner. There are different types of pallet or container; each fits a different type of aircraft or different position in the hold of an aircraft. Everything is dictated by the load sheet, and weight and balance of the aircraft. Once the weight and distribution of all the passengers, their luggage, the fuel and the cargo are known, the pilots can trim the aircraft accordingly.

For our cargo customers the new facility offers many improvements. The process is quicker with double the number of delivery doors and faster security processing, and new systems that give customers real time updates. There’s twice the amount of storage with enough room to hold aprox 250 pallets for 30 flights, including much larger areas for refrigerated or specialised cargo like food, pharmaceuticals, dangerous goods or high-value items. The new systems allow us to get the cargo out to the aircraft in the right order for loading, which means assisting the airline with ensuring the flight leaves on time. Being co-located with Delta also allows us to offer a much greater network and more frequent flights. Our many furry frequent flyers can also look forward to our new pets facility.

The office with nods to our latest advert and a mysterious golden gorilla

As well as being more efficient, the new building is a nicer place to work. The main warehouse roof has large clear panels for a light and airy feel, and as you walk into the reception area you’re greeted by a stunning three-storey-high artwork by up and coming street artist Marius Tivga. In the adjacent offices are our operations team, who supervise the dnata operation, as well as sales, shipping and our customer relations teams. Offices and meeting rooms are peppered with cool design touches, and there’s even a small gym.

Marius with his awesome painting.

Sustainability

Dnata City East was built with sustainability in mind and is BREEAM-rated (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) as excellent. The building itself is very efficient, with a state of the art VRF (Variable Refrigerant Flow) heating and cooling system, high-efficiency lighting and automatic controls. On the roof a 44kW solar array will provide renewable energy which exceeds the Greater London Authority carbon emission targets, and has an energy performance certificate rating of “A”.

The building is all-electric so it emits no air pollution at all, and will actually reduce its carbon emissions as our electrical grid continues to decarbonise. It was designed to allow the charging of electric cars and HGVs as they become a more significant part of the market, enabling the decarbonisation of the vehicle sector as well.

Onboard, on time and ready to fly to the other side of the world

As with everything aviation, there’s a rhythm to the cargo sheds. Mondays tend to be quieter, and there’s a morning and evening rush. Then there are the peak times of year such as Valentine’s Day when the place fills up with fresh flowers, or a flurry of activity around the launch of a new flagship phone. But the busiest time for the cargo operation is the weeks leading up to Christmas when everything from decorations and the dinner vegetables to all those gifts you buy online find their way around the world. This year, thanks to our cargo team and their brand-new building, Santa’s job is going to be just a little bit easier.

Find out more about our cargo team and the different products and services they provide on their website

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Dave Gunner

Dave is the co-editor of Ruby, the Virgin Atlantic Blog. He has worked at Virgin Atlantic for over two decades. In that time he has amassed some truly epic memories but never lost his fascination with the airline world. Dave's on a mission to bring you some great insights into our people, planes and planet.

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