SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia on Wednesday said it has reached agreements with Singapore Airlines <SIAL.SI> and Qantas Airways Ltd <QAN.AX> to carry foods to Asian markets, part of a government initiative to help businesses hit hard by the new coronavirus.
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 Singapore Airlines will carry food from the state of South Australia, the government said.
Australia’s trade minister, 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,” Birmingham said.
The flights will fall under a A$1 bln 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.
(Reporting by Renju Jose. Editing by Gerry Doyle)