“Cargo will always be an important part of Air New Zealand”

“Cargo will always be an important part of Air New Zealand”

Anna Palairet, Air New Zealand general manager, cargo speaks to ACW.

ACW: New Zealand has had a unique approach to lockdown. Has this affected air cargo operations?

Anna Palairet: Given the Maintaining International Air Connectivity (MIAC) scheme set up by the New Zealand Government, the various lockdowns New Zealand has been through have largely not impacted our international services, albeit sometimes the resulting reduced domestic schedule has impacted regional connectivity to the international gateways in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. It’s another tip of the hat to the MIAC scheme, its structure, and how critical it is for New Zealand exporters and importers.

To put this year into perspective, we have carried– 12.1 million kilograms of fresh produce, 4.2 million kilograms of chilled meat, 2.3 million kilograms of chilled salmon, along with over 50 vaccine shipments to the Pacific Islands. All in all, we operated 7,191 international cargo flights, carrying an impressive 104,572 tonnes of cargo.

ACW: How has Air New Zealand coped with the decrease in passenger demand?

Palairet: In response to the decline in passenger demand on our network and border closures in 2020, we scaled back, as many airlines did, to only 12 international flights per week. We pivoted our Cargo business almost immediately to a cargo-only charter model. We operated our first charter on March 30 2020, and over the 10 weeks thereafter operated over 250 cargo-only charter rotations to North America, Australia, and Asia, including at one point, double daily services into Shanghai which brought the initial loads of PPE equipment into New Zealand as part of the country’s pandemic response. In May 2020, the IAFC scheme was introduced (now known as MIAC) and continues to run today.

We’re incredibly grateful for the Government’s support under the MIAC scheme, which has meant we’ve been able to keep goods flowing from New Zealand to the world and vice versa.

ACW: How has Air New Zealand’s business strategy changed with the drop in demand for passenger services? Has cargo taken on a new importance?

Palairet: Cargo will always be an important part of Air New Zealand and export airfreight will always be an important part of connecting New Zealand’s exporters with the world, particularly with our high-quality aquaculture, meat and dairy, and horticulture industries which rely on cool-chain and speed to market, for freshness and shelf-life.

What remains central to our thinking is our purpose of enriching our country by connecting New Zealand to the world, and our promise of manaaki, which is about taking care further than any other airline.

ACW: How has Air New Zealand utilised ‘preighters’?

Palairet: Our entire long-haul international network is currently operating 787-900 passenger aircraft with many services operating as cargo-only. We have been operating this way since May 2020.

ACW: What routes have been added or continued during the pandemic and why?  

Palairet: Benefiting from the New Zealand Government assisted Cargo scheme (MIAC) we’ve been able to keep operating our international network, maintaining connectivity for the New Zealand import and export community and helping to bring home more than 70,000 Kiwis in the last year. There hasn’t been a single day where an Air New Zealand flight hasn’t taken off. We’ve launched three new cargo routes, one from Christchurch to Guangzhou supported by the MIAC scheme and two to Los Angeles from Brisbane and Melbourne through the Australian Freight scheme, IFAM.

ACW: Has Air New Zealand been involved in vaccine transportation?

Palairet: We have carried shipments of the COVID vaccines into New Zealand and also into the Pacific Islands. These shipments do have a need to maintain temperature integrity, although that is largely achieved through the packaging of the goods as piece-level. As such our role in the supply chain is to ensure that critical deadlines are met and that shipments are uplifted as they are booked. We’re proud to be playing a part in helping our Pacific neighbours in their fight against COVID-19.

ACW: When New Zealand opens up again what steps will Air NZ take to get back to ‘normal’ operations? What routes will be restarted first, why?

Palairet: Work is well underway around the airline planning for our inaugural flight to New York, with a team working to get this route up and running next year. Through the Government’s Maintaining International Connectivity scheme, we’ve kept flying our international network so it will be a relatively easy process to open these flights up to passengers when it’s safe to do so.

ACW: Amidst the uncertainty and difficulties that the aviation industry has faced this past 16 months, what lessons have been learnt?

Palairet: Three things come to mind when I think of lessons learnt. Resilience, responsiveness and closeness with customers are critical.

I’m incredibly proud of the way the Cargo team and all the support and enabling teams around Air New Zealand have showed resilience and adapted with borders opening, closing and pausing. As a passenger and cargo airline, we have had to adapt over the past 18 months to be cargo-only at times and with that comes lots of opportunities to refine the customer experience.

Being responsive is critical, i.e. switching between operating models of ‘border restricted’ to ‘2-way QFT bubble’ and reverting to ‘border restricted’ modes as we are currently operating in with the Tasman being closed.

What has served us well over the past 16 months is our closeness with customers in our key markets. It’s been through these relationships that we’ve been able to share our outlooks, challenges, and plan together, and in doing that carve a way forward despite the adversity. The pandemic has required all parties to adjust their operating processes and business models, multiple times in some cases, which hasn’t been easy, but it’s that collaboration and the subsequent adjustments we’ve all made which have kept things moving.