If you were looking for confirmation that the southern hemisphere perishables season was underway, look no further than the current series of ‘Mango Express’ flights from Darwin. Each week until early December, a Cathay Pacific Cargo flight will depart Australia’s Northern Territory for export markets including Hong Kong, Shanghai and South Korea.
The flights, long an ambition of growers in the Northern Territory of Australia, demonstrate Cathay Pacific Cargo’s agility. This is essential, as the mangoes have, as Regional Head of Cargo Nigel Chynoweth explains, ‘a very short peak season that runs only from late-November to mid-December’.
Cathay Pacific Cargo is able to do this by rerouting an existing cargo-only passenger (COP) operation back via Darwin from Sydney. The flights are operated with Boeing 777Cs, passenger aircraft that have had their seats removed to provide additional main deck capacity. However, these aircraft are gradually being returned to their normal configuration as Cathay Pacific rebuilds its passenger network and frequencies, so these flights will be among the last they will make in their temporary cargo configuration.
Chynoweth explains how this arrangement came about: ‘We had an existing commitment to operate these COP flights from Hong Kong to Sydney with a full cargo belly load using the main deck with mail on the main deck,’ he says. ‘They now ferry to Darwin on their return to Hong Kong and pick up the mango shipments. It was a great opportunity to provide this service for the Northern Territory’s market.’
Each of the weekly flights, which started at the beginning of November, will carry about 50 tonnes of the tropical fruit. It has been a route to market that growers have been clamouring for in recent years, and there has been considerable investment by distributors to make sure that these perishables meet international export standards. This includes running the fruit through vapour heat treatment (VHT) chambers, which expose the mangoes to water vapour heated to up to 50°C to kill off any fruit flies or their eggs or larvae. This is a precondition for some Asian export markets, including South Korea.
With the growing demand for Australian produce, Adelaide-based airfreight solutions company Pak Fresh Handling has invested in new VHT chambers to ensure that the mangoes are picked, packed and delivered to the highest standards. Robert Hall, General Manager Northern Territories for Seaway Logistics, which was the agent for the shipments, and Pak Fresh Handling, says: ‘Our Darwin airside facility is a world-class supply chain operation that guarantees the delivery of fresh Aussie produce to destinations worldwide. We are pleased to partner with Cathay Pacific Cargo to facilitate market growth and support Australian shippers in the region.’
Progress so far has been smooth. ‘The flights have been well-planned by Seaway, as well as Menzies, which provides our cargo and ramp handling in Darwin,’ adds Chynoweth. ‘The Northern Territory market has been very active in trying to get this flight to happen, and it is great we are able to make it a reality. For us to be able to uplift mangoes to Hong Kong with next-day connection to a number of destinations is perfect.’
Cathay Pacific Cargo has also previously helped Tasmanian cherry farmers get their prized fruit into the Asian market.