Air New Zealand flight departing for Shanghai with freight as demand for goods surges

An Air New Zealand flight carrying freight is departing for Shanghai as demand for goods surges around the world amid nationwide shut-downs to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Transport Minister Phil Twyford has announced that up to $1 million has been fast-tracked to help Air New Zealand move urgent freight to and from New Zealand to keep the flow of vital food and medical supplies. 

It's part of the Government's $600 million aviation support package announced earlier this month to help New Zealand exporters and importers, to try and minimise the impact on the aviation sector suffering from the tourism decline. 

Just over half of the aviation support package, $330 million, has been set aside to keep air freight moving, and to deal with any immediate risks or opportunities as they arise in the aviation sector. 

The Air New Zealand flight to the Chinese city Shanghai will depart on Monday night and will be loaded with time-sensitive New Zealand exports and will return carrying essential goods and equipment. 

"We are focusing on maintaining good stocks of all essential medicines, equipment and critical products," Twyford said. "There is huge demand right now for air freight from both our importers and exporters."

Air New Zealand normally relies on a mix of passenger and air freight revenue to maintain its operations, but that's changed now with COVID-19 almost eliminating revenue from passenger services for airlines worldwide. 

The deadline for people to catch domestic flights in New Zealand has now passed, with Twyford last week extending it until midnight on the Friday that's just been. 

Transport Minister Phil Twyford.
Transport Minister Phil Twyford. Photo credit: Newshub

Air New Zealand, 52 percent owned by the Government, was given a 24-month loan of up to $900 million earlier this month to protect it from collapsing, as it axed a number of international flight routes sparking job loss concerns. 

The airline confirmed over the weekend that several staff have tested positive for the coronavirus. 

The Government acknowledged how the airline can play its part in making sure Kiwis can return home from overseas and that essential flights and freight lines remain open by ensuring flights continue to and from key international destinations. 

"Without this intervention, New Zealand was at risk of not having a national airline," Finance Minister Grant Robertson said at the time the loan was announced. 

Freight now looks to be Air New Zealand's saving grace, with New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, Canada, Chile, Brunei and Myanmar recently announcing a shared commitment to maintain open and connected trade and supply chains. 

It comes as the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) announced that the public will now be able to purchase some essential non-food products online, such as heaters and blankets and other items to maintain people's health. 

Last week, the Government announced that tariffs have been removed temporarily on all medical and hygiene imports needed for the COVID-19 response.