This was the extraordinary sight at Stansted Airport, as one of the world’s largest aircraft swallowed up the UK’s entry to next year’s America’s Cup.
The four-engine Ukrainian Antonov 124 took off at 6.30pm on Monday (September 28) for its flight to Auckland in New Zealand, via Dubai.
The airport has reported significant growth in air cargo during the pandemic – but this must count as its most unusual load.
The INEOS Britannia II is the British challenger for the oldest trophy in international sport. The America’s Cup, regarded as the pinnacle of yachting, was first contested in 1851 in a race around the Isle of Wight.
It will be skippered for the 36th competition, which kicks off in January 2021, by four-time Olympic champion Sir Ben Ainslie.
The 75-foot race boat, code-named RB2, is now on a four-day journey to join INEOS Team UK.
Sir Ben is currently in two-week mandatory quarantine in New Zealand and counting down the days until sailing operations begin.
He said: “As a challenger, you’re always playing catch up on the race boat design from the defender who gets to define the rules. That’s the game we chose to compete in, so we had to give ourselves maximum design and build time in the UK, which meant the Antonov was the only transport option.
“It’s testament to the huge effort by the whole team to get RB2 built and delivered to New Zealand on schedule. We can’t wait to get her out sailing!”
Project director Dave Endean has overseen the build and safe transportation of RB2 to New Zealand.
“The logistics of moving an entire America’s Cup team, including two AC75 boats, to New Zealand are not insignificant and it has taken a lot of time and hard work from the entire team to make it happen. It was an important milestone to get our race boat on the Antonov cargo plane today and I, and the rest of our team left in the UK, can’t wait to join the team in New Zealand now and get sailing in the Auckland Harbour.”
Meanwhile, Stansted operator Manchester Airports Group said cargo volumes rose 43.6 per cent in July and 25 per cent in August, compared to last year, as people’s reliance on ecommerce soared.
The shift towards dedicated air cargo operations has also been driven by a lack of traditional ‘belly-hold’ operations, in which goods are transported in the baggage hold of passenger aircraft. With long-haul passenger operations scaled back in recent months, belly-hold capacity has dropped significantly to key markets, especially on popular routes to the US.
There have been two extra weekly cargo flights between Stansted and the US in recent months.
MAG’s group 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.”
Dr Ann Limb, chair of the UK Innovation Corridor, said: “These figures clearly demonstrate the importance of aviation to the UK and regional economy. Airports like Stansted are playing a huge role in the economic fight against Covid-19 and during these difficult times this news is a major boost for the London-Cambridge Innovation Corridor.”