On the tarmac at Adelaide Airport, container after container is being loaded into the hold of China Southern’s Airbus A330 aircraft.
The advent of the Chinese carrier’s nonstop service between Adelaide and Guangzhou in December 2016 has brought a surge in air exports from South Australia to China, with trade on the route growing by 37 per cent in the past 12 months. The export component of this trade is valued at $22 million annually.
Some of that growth has been at the expense of Cathay Pacific and its entry into China via Hong Kong, while Malaysia Airlines also has been impacted by the arrival of China Southern into Adelaide. There has also been a lift in air freight into the Asian region through Singapore.
The China experience is part of a wider picture, with the introduction of more international flights on widebody aircraft to Adelaide proving a boon for South Australian exporters.
The value and volume of overseas air freight has risen sharply since Emirates began nonstop flights to Adelaide in 2012, followed by Qatar and China Southern in 2016, raising to seven the number of international airlines carrying freight from, and into, Adelaide.
Adelaide Airport Ltd (AAL) says total air freight value for 2016/17 was about $1.5 billion, with about 30,000 tonnes carried annually.
AAL chief executive Mark Young says the advent of more widebody international service has “greatly improved South Australian exporters’ avenues to market”, creating faster, cheaper and more regular services.
The export task is dominated by perishables, with agricultural products, foodstuffs and wine accounting for 82 per cent of total export volumes in the past financial year, Young says.
Over the past two years, meat and seafood exports rose by 79 per cent, prepared food by 97 per cent and fresh fruit and vegetables by 26 per cent.
While previously much of South Australia’s exporters sent air freight via Melbourne or Sydney, now about 60 per cent is being sent direct from Adelaide to overseas destinations, Young says.
Further growth is expected when Qatar increases its Adelaide-Doha services from five a week to daily in December, offering about 160 tonnes of cargo capacity in the belly of its A350 aircraft, which can carry 36 LD3 containers.
While new air services have accounted for much of the recent growth, with up to 25 tonnes of available cargo space available on many flights out of Adelaide, established carrier Singapore Airlines has helped to spur growth to its home base by 31 per cent.
And Air New Zealand’s new Boeing 787-9 service between Adelaide and Auckland is providing 25 tonnes of freight capacity on each of its three services a week, opening up direct exports to New Zealand and onward to North America.
The airline announced on Wednesday the 787-9 will be a permanent feature on the route.