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Shortage of air freight space for Australian exports

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Some sectors of the air transport industry say that boosting flight numbers further is not easy, due to aviation quota restrictions, whilst starting new routes involves considerable risk for airlines.

“If you are repositioning a $100 million aircraft, it’s a big decision,” said the general manager of Wellcamp Airport, a A$200 million privately built air freight facility in the agriculture-rich state of Queensland. Cathay, which operates two dedicated freight vessels between Hong Kong and Australia every week, will start a weekly cargo service next month from Wellcamp.

Exports of higher-margin products such as beef can take precedence. While fruits and vegetables cost around 70 to 80 Australian cents per kilo to export by air, frozen beef fetches nearly double the freight rate.

There is no guarantee of room on planes for smaller producers, as crop estimates can sometimes be well below production numbers, and airlines can also bump off small export shipments of fruits or vegetables with only a day’s notice to load higher margin products.

A grape grower in the southern state of Victoria, said the industry was losing market share to foreign competitors due to the freight shortage.

“When there is a gap in the chain (with Asian supermarkets), others move in and it’s a problem for us,” he said.