There have been emergency expatriate flights where aircraft have been dispatched to bring back citizens to their home countries. Now from the land down under, there is the emergency lobster airlift.
What do you do when you have $800 million of lobster and all outgoing, international flights are grounded? This was a problem facing the Australian lobster industry when they couldn’t get their caught lobster to market. In normal times, Australia ships most of the lobster harvest to China. When the China market dried up in January due to COVID-19, the lobster market focused on Korea and Japan. Now, China has reopened for business and Australia is closed.
The industry had relied on passenger flights operated by Qantas and Virgin Australia to transport lobster to Asia. Now that both airlines are grounded, there was no transportation from Australia to the Asian markets. They had considered flying to Japan and then onward to China to avoid flight bans however no planes were flying out of Australia.
How about a win-win-win solution? Australia needs:
- To help Australian airlines generate some income during the grounding,
- Australia needs medical supplies from China and
- China needs lobsters from Australia.
The Australian government came to the rescue. Australia was to receive cargo flights from China with medical relief supplies and then the aircraft would fly back empty to China. These emergency medical supply flights are known as airbridge flights. Why not fly the lobsters on the empty flights returning to China?
“We’ve been scrambling to try and find a solution to keep all of our people in a job and keep our boats on the water,” a representative of the fishing industry said. “Then we can keep all of the important export earnings coming into the country as well as maintaining supply to our customers.”
“We recognize the current COVID-19 crisis is placing immense pressure on Australian exporters, many of whom felt the earliest and deepest aspects of the economic downturn,” said Trade Minister Simon Birmingham.
“Necessary public health restrictions are already placing massive pressure on business viability and job security,” continued the trade minister. “We can’t afford for our farmers, fishers, and exporters to be under similar pressure just because they can’t get their goods onto a plane.”
When times get tough, it’s time to get creative. Flying a plane empty (deadheading) is a money-losing proposition. Here, creative minds came up with the idea of flying lobsters out on these airbridge flights while flying back with medical supplies. This action helped save the Australian lobster industry.