SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australia on Wednesday (May 6) said it has reached agreements with Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Qantas Airways to carry food to Asian markets, part of a government initiative to help businesses hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
Qantas from Thursday will begin a weekly flight from the country's north to Hong Kong carrying seafood and other produce from Queensland state, while SIA will carry food from the state of South Australia, the government said.
Australia's trade minister, Mr Simon Birmingham, said the agreements would help re-establish direct freight routes for exporters who have been struggling to ship overseas during the pandemic.
"We recognise the current Covid-19 crisis has placed immense pressure on local seafood exporters, many of whom felt the earliest impacts when overseas demand began to dry up in January," Mr Birmingham said.
The flights will fall under a A$1 billion (S$912 million) government fund to support regions, communities and industry sectors affected by Covid-19. Officials did not say whether the fund would pay for or subsidise the routes.
A mix of South Australian products, including chilled seafood, tuna, lamb, chicken meat and eggs, will be carried to Singapore, and later distributed to Hong Kong, Thailand and China.
About half of the air cargo carried worldwide in normal times flies in the belly of passenger jets rather than in dedicated freighters, but grounding of airplanes due to Covid-19 has made the market more dependent on freight haulers.
The Covid-19 crisis has also forced many airlines to use their passenger fleets as temporary cargo carriers.
SIA said in a statement on Wednesday that the first of six of what are called passenger aircraft carrying cargo only (PACC) flights departed Adelaide on Wednesday morning. It said the flight was supported by the Australian government's International Freight Assistance Mechanism.
"The Airbus A350-900 aircraft took off just after 9.40am local time carrying more than 30 tonnes of chilled seafood, tuna, lamb, chicken meat and eggs, as well as wine, cosmetics, mining equipment, commercial flavours, cider and a range of other consolidated items," said SIA.
The cargo shipments will now make their way to Singapore before being distributed and transported to Hong Kong, Thailand, China, Vietnam and the US.