Heathrow air cargo at Christmas. Do items like Christmas lights, Calendars and dried flower need to be air cargo?

Heathrow is proud to boast about the amount of cargo it handles, in the run-up to Christmas. It publishes a chosen few of the statistics, for the month from 24th November to 24th December from a year earlier. These show the huge tonnage of items that are air freighted, but are not perishable – and presumably could perfectly well be transported to (or from) the UK by ship.  Heathrow says the data “reveals sharp spike in exports of seasonal essentials including Christmas lights, calendars, fish, lobster, and meat.” The press release is a bit unclear about just how much of the cargo is exports, and how much is imports – or cargo in transit through Heathrow. But it celebrates air freighting items like books, Christmas lights, calendars and dried flowers (sic – dried, not fresh) for decorations. Heathrow only mentions the non-EU destinations for cargo. They are very proud of huge tonnage of salmon that is shipped abroad (salmon farming does a huge amount of environmental harm, which is increasingly becoming known to the public). Heathrow now also exports trout (also farmed) and lobster.  These are the items being flown over people’s heads, as they suffer the noise of Heathrow’s planes – or the items in lorries adding to local air pollution.  Essential??

Lights, decorations and… lobster? The most popular Christmas cargo flying through Heathrow

12.12.2017 (Heathrow airport press release)

Christmas Ingredients Flying Through in Record Numbers via Heathrow

  • Over 143 million kilograms of Christmas cargo expected to fly via Heathrow to the world in the month leading up to December 25th, a record to date
  • New data reveals sharp spike in exports of seasonal essentials including Christmas lights, calendars, fish, lobster, and meat
  • Heathrow launches the “12 Exporters of Christmas” social media campaign to bring these festive exporting stories to life

Heathrow has released new data revealing the wide array and surprising volumes of seasonal exports that fly in the bellyhold of planes in the months leading up to Christmas.  Over 143 million kilos of Christmas cargo is expected to fly through Heathrow to destinations around the world from November 24th to December 25th – a record to date.

As the biggest port in the UK by value, Heathrow plays a crucial role in delivering the essential ingredients to Christmas celebrations to British homes and homes all over the world.  The airport’s data from November and December 2016 shows a clear spike in the volume of certain Christmas staples coming into the airport and out to non-EU destinations, including: 

  • Christmas lighting sets – 27,467 kg (up from an average of 7,203 kg/month from January – October)
  • Frozen lobster – 443,146 kg (up from an average of 163,312 kg/month from January – October)
  • Calendars – 31,316 kg (up from an average of 3,382 kg/month from January – October)
  • Dried flowers, including for decorations –  310,677 kg (up from an average of 109,796 kg/month from January – October)

Salmon was the most popular export to non-EU destinations overall by weight in November and December 2016, with 6,070,000 kg of fish (equivalent to approximately 480 New London Routemaster Buses) recorded as flying through.    Exports of books were the second most popular commodity – with a recorded 4,834,000 kg going through last year (or approximately 382 New London Routemaster buses).

Heathrow’s data also reveals the top 5 destinations these exports are flying to outside the EU – showing the majority of long-haul exports are destined for American markets:  [They do not mention the EU destinations]. 

  • United States (15.31 million kilograms)
  • China (6.20 million kilograms)
  • UAE (3.77 million kilograms)
  • Australia (3.36 million kilograms)
  • Hong Kong (2.77 million kilograms)

To highlight the wide array of exports flying out of its gates, Heathrow has today launched a “12 Exporters of Christmas” social media campaign.   Each day in the lead up to Christmas, Heathrow will highlight individual stories of SMEs up and down the country that rely on the airport to export British Christmas essentials including tea, jams and biscuits across the world. 


In total, Heathrow has seen a record 290,340,803 kilograms of exports flying through from January to October to non-EU destinations this year – an 8.5% increase from the same period last year. These exports are worth an astounding £39.62 billion. Heathrow’s role as a trading hub will grow as expansion takes place, with cargo capacity set to double with the addition of a third runway.


Nick Platts, Head of Cargo at Heathrow Airport said:


“Heathrow is at its busiest time at Christmas – and this year, we not only expect record numbers of passengers to fly through, but also a record amount of cargo to be flown in the holds under their feet.   Santa may still have the claim on the most deliveries on Christmas Eve, but for the months before it, Heathrow is doing its bit to export our British Christmas across the world.”


Notes to Editors:


All figures – unless indicated – exclude EU27 and Switzerland

Sources of figures: UK Tradeinfo, Seabury Group, Heathrow Analysis and Heathrow Monthly Traffic Figures

New London Routemaster bus weight is calculated at 12.65 tonnes, or 12,650kg


Top 10 commodities by volume exported in Nov-Dec 2016 via LHR

(Non-EU exports, excl. Switzerland, grouped by categories)


Top export commodities by weight in Nov + Dec 2016 (tonnes)
4Vehicle and parts2,209
9Aircraft and parts2,140
3Milk, cream, yogurt, etc.1,348
6Medicaments and vaccines1,180
7Food preparations1,059
5Trout, fresh944
*Seabury database, non-EU, excl. Switzerland


[There is, of course, no comparable data on imports.  Heathrow only ever stresses exports, but there are a higher tonnage of imports ….]




And a year earlier Heathrow said:


16 December, 2016

Forget sleighs and reindeer – Heathrow’s got your Christmas cargo covered

  • As shoppers rush to beat the deadline for the final post, over 130,000 tonnes of Christmas cargo is expected to reach the four corners of the world via Heathrow in December 2016, a record to date
  • Fresh salmon, knitted items, clotted cream and books are amongst the top exports by weight in Christmas 2015
  • Festive imports include Christmas staples like cranberries, lamb and peas
  • Over 1 million tonnes of cargo goes through Heathrow each year


With shoppers rushing to get their last minute presents ahead of this weekend’s international postage deadline, Heathrow is forecasting up to 132,000 tonnes of cargo will go through the airport this December, an increase of 3% over last year, and a new record in air freight for December at Heathrow since 1991.

To mark the occasion, Heathrow has released new data on the seasonal exports and imports in 2015 and highlights what Christmas 2016 has in store.

Heathrow’s export data reflects how our uniquely British sensibilities are exported to the world.  Fresh salmon was the single biggest export by weight, totalling 2,980 tonnes in December alone.  Other Christmas staples, including knitted and crocheted items, dairy products including clotted cream, and books were amongst the airport’s most popular exports by weight for the month of December, totalling 2,558 tonnes altogether in December 2015.  While not in the list of top ten exports overall, exports of whiskey jumped up by 76% – or 128 tonnes – from November to December 2015.

At the same time, vital components of a festive feast are flown in from all over the world – including 1,680 tonnes of fresh berries, primarily cranberries from Chile, 839 tonnes of lamb, mostly from New Zealand, and 830 tonnes of peas, mostly from Guatemala. Popular presents including books, and pullovers were the most popular Heathrow import commodities by weight last December, and are expected to be again in 2016.

As the biggest port in the UK by value of goods, Heathrow has played an important role in exports. The top five UK export commodities by value expected to go through the airport this Christmas are (based on trends in December):

  •      Parts of aircraft & aircraft turbo engines – (in December 2015, the value of these was £281 million)
  •      Aircraft turbojets – (in December 2015, the value of these was £212 million)
  •      Vaccines for human medicine – (in December 2015, the value of these was £160 million)
  •      Medicine, measured doses or for retail sale – (in December 2015, the value of these was £130 million
  •      Paintings – (in December 2015, the value of these was £113 million)

As the UK’s only hub airport, Heathrow connects to 82 long-haul destinations which put it – and the UK – at the heart of international commerce. Having received Government backing for its expansion, Heathrow will be able to open up 40 additional long haul destinations – including some severely constrained routes to emerging markets – and almost double capacity.

Three of the top five Christmas export destinations at Heathrow (based on value in December 2015) are to fast growing economies in Asia:

  •          USA – £929 million
  •          Hong Kong – £849 million
  •          China – £730 million
  •          UAE – £238 million
  •          Japan – £151 million

In total, Heathrow has seen 1,407,561 tonnes of cargo go through the airport from January to November this year, an increase of almost 3% over the same period last year.

Nick Platts, Head of Cargo at Heathrow Airport said:

“We may be a long way from the North Pole, but the figures today underline Heathrow’s vital part in delivering Christmas to the UK, and the British Christmas to the world. Of course, our standing agreement with Santa Claus remains and we’ll prioritise his landing clearance come Christmas Eve.”


–  ENDS –

Notes to editors:

All figures exclude EU27 & Switzerland.

Source: UK Tradeinfo,  Seabury Group,  Heathrow analysis

130,000 tonnes of cargo is a record for December cargo volumes, based on Heathrow records for dating back from 1991.

Heathrow recently announced a proposed blueprint plan to develop cargo facilities and overhaul processes and people and grow UK cargo volumes. This will support the UKTI and Government’s drive to hit £1 trillion worth of UK exports by 2020. The Cargo Blueprint is accessible here:https://your.heathrow.com/takingbritainfurther/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Heathrow-Cargo-Blueprint.pdf#sthash.Iek3mZUw.dpuf


The top ten exports in December 2015, by weight, were:

Exports; Dec-15Weight (tonnes)Value (US$ 000’s)
1Salmon, Fresh2,98023,337
2Books, brochures and similar printed matter, not in single sheets1,73545,076
3Milk, cream, buttermilk, yogurt etc. liquid, dried, concentrated or sweetened5325,977
4Medicine, Measured Doses or for Retail Sale336194,844
5Vehicles : Cars, Estate Cars or Station Wagons31253,492
6Food preparations, not elsewhere specified2977,128
7T-shirts & similar garments, of knitted or crocheted textile fabrics29112,071
8Vehicle Engine Parts27727,977
9Other Parts for Aircraft263179,486
10Trout, Fresh2481,682


The top ten imports in December 2015, by weight, were:

Imports; Dec-15Weight (tonnes)Value (US$ 000’s)
1Beans, Fresh1,7886,339
2Berries including cranberries, blueberries, fresh1,68017,325
3Books, brochures and similar printed matter, not in single sheets1,19319,000
4Jerseys, pullovers, cardigans, waistcoats & similar, knitted or crocheted97930,566
5Sheep Meat, Fresh8397,466
6Digital ADP Machines, Portable (Laptops etc)836260,235
7Peas, Fresh8304,472
8Other Fresh Vegetables, Fresh8252,186
9Asparagus, Fresh7635,692
10T-shirts & similar garments, of knitted or crocheted textile fabrics66016,795