Cathay Pacific Cargo has started a series of 21 freighter flights using one of its Boeing 777-300 ‘preighters’ from Hobart to Hong Kong via Melbourne.
This seasonal service, which runs until mid-February, will provide the Asian market with a welcome air link to Tasmania’s fresh produce from both sea and land – especially for the cherry harvest, which peaks over the Christmas period.
The flights have been a while in the making, as Nigel Chynoweth, Regional Head of Cargo South West Pacific, explains: ‘In the early weeks of COVID-19, many domestic airlines had either ceased or reduced their capacity from Hobart to Sydney and Melbourne, which made connectivity for air cargo very difficult.’
So difficult, in fact, that it prompted Chris Fox, Managing Director of Link Logistics, and Bernie Cooney, National Perishable and Livestock Manager for DHL Global, to approach Cathay Pacific Cargo back in May to outline their concerns for the coming Southern Hemisphere summer peak.
Their suggestion of a direct air link is not new. The Tasmanian government has been trying to bolster the island’s international connections for some years. Despite its reputation for pristine produce, the island is too often hampered by connectivity. Chynoweth says: ‘A lot of the time sensitive Tasmanian produce is compromised by either overnight trucking via the ferry [to the Australian mainland] or not particularly efficient air transfers to Melbourne and Sydney.’
Yet the airport has invested in its infrastructure. Chynoweth adds: ‘I visited Hobart last year to view the new freight facility and also the Link Logistics facility, which is world-class. As with Brisbane West Wellcamp, it is suitable for international operations and offers first-rate cool-room facilities, which are essential for handling produce including chilled dairy and chilled meat along with the live seafood.’
It was the pandemic, which caused more of a blockage for the island, that also provided a solution. Cathay Pacific is one of nine airlines to be awarded IFAM (International Freight Assistance Mechanism) accreditation by Australia’s federal government. ‘This enabled us to re-establish Adelaide and Perth flights and add a cargo-only passenger flight to Wellcamp for six months,’ says Chynoweth. ‘From fortnightly IFAM updates we were aware that IFAM had put on additional capacity between Hobart and Sydney, to provide an airbridge for Tasmanian exporters because of the severe reductions in domestic capacity.’
Chynoweth is fulsome in his praise for Cathay Pacific teams across the business, from the Cargo Planning and Cargo Services Department teams, to Airport Services, Flight Operations and Engineering among others, for turning around the practical and regulatory approvals to start the new route so quickly.
Menzies Aviation, Cathay Pacific’s ground handling partner in the South West Pacific region, is providing their services in Hobart to service the flights. Frank Calderone, Area Cargo Manager, adds: ‘As with Wellcamp, Menzies provides a Cargo Supervisor and Aircraft Loading Supervisor to ensure a safe, secure and efficient operation. These staff will come from either Melbourne or Sydney for the Hobart flight. Link Logistics will provide the Cargo Terminal operations.
‘We will be supplying a Transit Coordinator for the Hobart flights while our Engineering colleagues in Sydney will supply a Duty Engineer. As the Melbourne cargo office is the control station for Adelaide and Hobart, the management of these flights is a natural extension of our normal operation.’
Each flight will be able to carry more than 40 tonnes of produce to Hong Kong for further distribution. Tasmania’s Minister for Primary Industries and Water, Guy Barnett, says: ‘It’s fantastic news and another vote of confidence in our world-class premium produce that is highly sought right across the world.’