Nordic seafood market booms as another operator considers a freighter service

The continued growth of seafood volumes in the Nordics is pushing more companies to consider launching direct freighter services to the region.
The latest company to study the potential for a freighter service is Saudia Airlines Cargo, which is holding meetings over the coming days with potential customers regarding the possibility of a service.
Speaking at the Nordic Air Cargo Symposium in Stockholm, the airline’s regional director Europe, Rainer Muller, explained that any service would likely begin in the Middle East, call in central Europe, then Oslo before heading to New York.
The calls in central Europe and Saudi Arabia would help offset the fact that very few imports into Oslo are carried on freighters by offering the chance to transport goods from Saudi Arabia and central Europe to New York, with the rest of the freighter available for seafood.
“We understand that this [service] is something that cannot just be based on fish. We have to generate a certain revenue on the flight and this is why we will look at a shared operation coming from central Europe with a certain amount of cargo and then combining it with the fish from Oslo,” Muller said.
However, it could be a while before the service is launched. Ahead of any potential new operation the airline will finalise a feasibility study, agree on detailed handling and operational processes, establish a 24/7 communication system, develop pre-agreed back-up solutions, define the potential day of operation and operate a test flight.
At this stage, Muller did not reveal which aircraft would be used from its fleet of 17 freighters – two Boeing 747-8s, four B777-300s and 11 B747-400s.
The exploration of a new service comes as salmon demand from the region continues to grow rapidly.
Marine Harvest head of airfreight Tom Erling Mikkelsen said: “Last year, we can see that total [salmon] volumes grew to many regions. The Far East was up 13%, the US up 23% and also you can see that we are producing more than 1m tonnes in Norway. That is the total market.
“The biggest growth was to the US, while the biggest country was Japan. If we look at this year, you can see that the biggest country so far this year is the US, which has now passed Japan.”
China and Hong Kong combined had also jumped ahead of Japan this year.
He added that volumes to Vietnam had declined so far in 2018, but this was down to the fact that China has removed an embargo, meaning salmon can be transported directly to the country.
According to the Norwegian Seafood Council, salmon volumes increased by 2.8% last year, but long-haul destinations, which require airfreight, tended to record strong growth while exports to the European Union, which can be trucked, saw a decrease.
Mikkelsen said one challenge presented by the rapid growth was finding enough capacity to meet demand. Like many sectors, seafood suffered from a lack of air cargo space during last year’s peak season, he said.
Demand projections for the long term are also positive. Airport operator Avinor’s director of cargo, Martin Langaas, pointed to statistics from the United Nations that showed the Norwegian market for seafood exports alone is expected to grow by 500% within the next 20-30 years.
Last year, Oslo Airport saw volumes rise by 35% year on year to 185,000 tonnes, fuelled by seafood exports.
In September last year, DHL began operating twice-weekly Boeing 747-400 flights from Oslo to Seoul and Shanghai in order to satisfy demand for Norwegian seafood in those markets.
Oslo also gained links with Tel Aviv (CAL), Istanbul (Turkish Cargo) and Lakselv (another DHL service, which brings seafood down from northern Norway for onward transport on the company’s Seoul and Shanghai flights).
To meet the demand, Oslo Airport is developing a new seafood centre and Langaas gave an update on the project.
He said: “The seafood exporters believe that the current facility at the airport cannot cope with the growth ahead. The aim [of the new facility] is to reduce the transport time and secure the cooling chain.
“We have already started some preparation work and in early January next year we will start construction work on the centre, which will be around 16,000 sq m and have a capacity of more than 200,000 tonnes per year.”
He added: “There has been huge interest in the terminal and we are now in the final negotiations with potential operators and hopefully soon we will be able to announce who will run the terminal.”
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