HONG Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific will make its first cargo flight to regional Australia on Monday to fly produce directly from the country’s food bowl to China.
The flight will take off from Wellcamp Airport, built near Toowoomba by BRW Rich List members the Wagner family.
Cathay Pacific’s south-west Pacific general manager, Nelson Chin, said the airline was enthusiastic about the trial.
“This is a very exciting time for Australian exporters, and it seems south-east Queensland and Northern NSW producers and businesses have enormous potential for growth after the signing of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement,” he said in a statement.
While food processors, including Northern NSW’s Bindaree Beef, believe the flight will be a game-changer, Cathay Pacific has stressed it is only a test.
“It is a one-off flight. It is a trial and there is nothing definite at this moment,” a Cathay Pacific spokeswoman said.
Part of the economic viability of flying to a particular destination is securing two-way trade so a plane is full on both arrival and departure.
Bindaree Beef chief financial officer James Roger said he believed the business case stood up. Bindaree will send between one and two tonnes of chilled beef on the test flight.
“Ongoing, we are looking to work with the Wellcamp facility for it to become a significant part of our logistics channel,” Mr Roger said. “We feel that over the next two to five years that will build significantly.”
A big part of the appeal of flying produce from Toowoomba to China is it halves the amount of road travel time for Bindaree to send beef to an international airport, Mr Roger said.
Currently, Bindaree uses Sydney Airport, which is about 700 kilometres from its factory in Inverell, whereas Toowoomba is a 320-kilometre trip. Produce will arrive in Asia the day after leaving Inverell, whereas at the moment the next day means the produce arriving at Sydney Airport.
The test flight comes after Shandong Delisi – a Chinese pork processor worth about $1 billion – bought 45 per cent of Bindaree for $140 million.
Beef prices are at record levels, fetching 595.5 cents a kilogram, according to the benchmark eastern young cattle indicator. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences projects the value of food consumed in China to more than double between 2009 and 2050.
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