Air New Zealand expands network as exporters turn to air cargo

By Damian Brett

Alex Larsen

The last few months have seen Air New Zealand open new cargo connections as it looks to meet demand from the country’s exporters.

Alex Larsen, head of global sales at the Auckland-headquartered airline, told Air Cargo News that the carrier recently expanded its network with twice-weekly services to Guangzhou, operating on Auckland-Christchurch-Guangzhou-Auckland loop.

Services also now operate between Christchurch and Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Melbourne.

“Connecting our South Island exporters directly with their international markets out of Christchurch was a key enhancement of our cargo network over the last three months,” Larsen said.

“We’re expecting demand will remain somewhat consistent across the course of 2021 if travel restrictions remain in place as they currently are.

“As travel-bubbles begin to selectively open, we’re expecting things to change and as additional capacity returns to the market, as a result of increases in passenger demand, we may see cargo demand pick up as more ‘traditional’ operating conditions return.”

Larsen said that exports from New Zealand to North America remain strong, particularly into retail channels in the US where demand for chilled meat and seafood has increased. 

“We’re seeing that when restrictions are imposed on dining in restaurants, people are looking to enjoy quality food and beverage in their own homes instead,” he said.

“The ‘stay-cation’ at home turns into enjoying some premium New Zealand king salmon and a Marlborough sauvignon blanc.

“Over the Christmas and New Year period, imports were particularly strong from Asia and Australia, with demand bolstered by a disrupted ocean sailing schedule and port delays.”

However, Larsen added that “we are not out of the woods yet” and said that curveballs will continue to hit the industry.

“Much like in 2020, we believe we have a role to play in enriching our country by connecting New Zealanders to each other and New Zealand to the world,” he said.

“We’ll continue to work closely with government, regulatory bodies, our customers, our people, and stakeholders to provide as much continuity as we can and keep our importers and exporters connected to the trade partners and markets they’ve worked tirelessly to build over so many years.”

Looking back on last year, Larsen said that early on in the crisis, Air New Zealand scaled back to just 12 international flights per as a result of the border closures.

However, the cargo division quickly pivoted to a cargo-only charter model and conducted its first charter flight at the end of March.

“Over the 10 weeks thereafter, we operated over 250 cargo-only charter rotations to North America, Australia, and Asia, including at one point, double daily services into Shanghai which brought the initial loads of PPE equipment into New Zealand as part of the country’s pandemic response,” Larsen said.

On May 8, Air New Zealand commenced scheduled services under the International Airfreight Capacity scheme, administered by the New Zealand Ministry of Transport.

The main objective of the scheme is to maintain capacity for critical imports (such as medical supplies) and high value exports.

“We are now in the second phase of the scheme, and to date it has been managed exceptionally well benefiting countless importers and exporters, as well as aiding in New Zealand’s repatriation efforts,” Larsen said.

Looking beyond the crisis, Larsen said that cargo will continue to play an important role at Air New Zealand.

“Export airfreight will always be an important part of connecting New Zealand’s exporters with the world, particularly with our high-quality aquaculture, meat and dairy, and horticulture industries which rely on cool-chain and speed to market, for freshness and shelf-life,” he explained.

“The last 12 months has presented plenty of challenges and opportunities, and we’ll continue to review our plans in light of the changing landscape.”

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