STANSTED Airport bosses say they have seen a significant rise in cargo traffic since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite seeing passenger numbers plummet by nearly 98 per cent during the lockdown, the airport has been boosted by an increase in air cargo – brought about by a surge in online shopping.

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics show the proportion of UK shopping carried out online rose from 19 per cent in February to almost 33 per cent in April as lockdown restrictions took hold.

This has led to a rise in air cargo traffic at Stansted, which was up 44 per cent in July and 25 per cent in August.

Bosses say the increase is at odds with what is typically expected in the summer time.

Stansted owners Manchester Airport Group says the trend has also been seen at its other airport in Birmingham.

Aviation director Aboudy Nasser said: “The last few months have seen a seismic shift in the way we live our lives.

“While much has been made of the changes to the way people travel, behind the scenes our airports have been leading the charge in helping the logistics sector adapt to rising demand for dedicated air cargo and changes in the way goods are transported.

“This underlines the vital role MAG airports play in supporting the UK economy as it gets back on its feet, and the critical role of air cargo in moving essential products quickly across the globe.

“We look forward to continuing our work with this important sector as it prepares itself for ever-increasing demand in the months ahead.”

MAG also believes the increase in air cargo is being driven by the lack of traditional ‘belly-hold’ operations, where goods are transported in the baggage hold of passenger aircraft.

With many airlines scaling back long-haul passenger operations in recent months, the availability of belly-hold capacity has reduced significantly, especially on popular routes to the US.

This has led to extra weekly flights between London Stansted and the US.

Denise Rossiter, chief executive of Essex Chambers of Commerce, said: “Stansted is generally thought of as somewhere to start your holiday or perhaps a business trip to an ever growing number of destinations across the globe.

“These figures show its importance for exporters and importers too, and how it is increasingly a major contributor to not just the Essex economy but that of the UK generally and why it is so important to businesses in Essex.”

She added: “I congratulate MAG and all at the airport on this achievement and look forward to seeing continuing growth in the future.”