Coronavirus: Cargo flights could be used to repatriate Kiwis stuck overseas

AIR NEW ZEALAND Cargo revenue is now more important than ever for Air New Zealand after passenger demand fell off a cliff due to coronavirus.

The Government is spending on average £6 million a week subsidising airlines to keep air cargo moving during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Government is also looking at opportunities to use cargo flights to repatriate Kiwis stuck overseas due to a collapse of international air links worldwide.

With the number of passenger flights into New Zealand having plummeted due to the impact of Covid-19, so too has capacity for air freight, a large amount of which was historically carried in the belly hold of passenger aircraft.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said there were currently around 90 commercial and charter flights into New Zealand each week.

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However, prior to Covid-19 there would have been more than 600 flights per week.

Government support for international air freight capacity had so far added 56 weekly cargo flights to New Zealand, with more expected, he said.

The Government put £330 million of a £600m Covid-19 package for the aviation sector towards an International Air Freight Capacity scheme to add capacity for high-value export cargo and maintain trade links with key global markets while also ensuring essential imports such as medical supplies.


Cargo has been an important lifeline for Air New Zealand during the coronavirus pandemic.

Alden Williams/Stuff Cargo has been an important lifeline for Air New Zealand during the coronavirus pandemic.

Funding is provided to guarantee cargo on key routes under agreements with carriers.

Carriers then offer that capacity directly to freight customers on commercial terms.

"We invited commercial proposals to deliver air freight capacity with key markets," Twyford said. 

The first successful applicants were Air New Zealand, China Airlines, Emirates, Freightways Express, Qantas and Tasman Cargo.

"We are working with other carriers, and expect to make further announcements shortly," Twyford said.

"There is a huge demand for air freight, at a time when capacity is limited.

This scheme helps provide certainty for business, while airlines and carriers respond to a changing world."


Each agreement was different, and tailored to a carrier's proposal, route and freight capacity.

Generally speaking, the level of support was dependent on how full the plane was, with funding reduced as the aircraft reached freight capacity.

The Government estimated the total amount paid would be about £6m per week, but this would fluctuate.

Some providers were using passenger aircraft and would work with Government on repatriation opportunities that occurred along the freight routes.

The first phase of contracts ran till the end of June and the scheme was expected to last at least six months.

Air New Zealand general manager cargo Rick Nelson said cargo customers would be able to access capacity across Air New Zealand's traditional network, with a handful of exceptions.

"We are working to offer connectivity to and from the United Kingdom and Europe, as well as Houston and Chicago via Los Angeles and San Francisco, Hong Kong and Narita gateways."

He hoped the airline would be able to revert to its traditional model as demand for passenger travel picked up.

The airline would not operate cargo flights under the agreement to London and Buenos Aires.

Singapore was also not included in the initial phase.


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