DHL Express charters Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines planes for Christmas rush

Unprecedented demand has forced freight company DHL Express to charter passenger aircraft from airlines.

The company says it is experiencing historically high shipping volumes in and out of New Zealand, with the longest “peak season” on record.

While DHL Express doesn’t disclose numbers for the tens of thousands of parcels it brings into the country each week, it says it has recorded double-digit percentage increases in shipments, as the latest Covid lockdown started peak season early.

In addition to DHL’s own air network, the extra charters will operate in preparation for this year’s Christmas rush.

Mark Foy, DHL Express managing director, New Zealand and Pacific Islands, said it had chartered Air NZ Boeing 787s, Cathay Pacific Airbus A350s and Singapore Airlines Boeing 777s for freight-only flights into this country.

There will be 21 non-stop flights from Hong Kong and Singapore, with about 20 tonnes of freight in each plane’s belly.

“Our freighters are a much more efficient way to … move freight around the world but these unusual times require different approaches,” said Foy.

This had meant the company had imposed an “emergency situations surcharge” to cover some of the extra cost, typically about 5 to 10 per cent.

“If you go to the sea freight market or the air freight market [traditional airliner belly space], you’re seeing those rates go up and down based on market demand.” Rates could more than double in those markets.

Foy said DHL hadn’t chartered passenger planes for this market before the pandemic.

DHL Express will be uplifting freight from overseas ports right up to Christmas.

For all Christmas orders, it will be picking up and delivering until December 24, but Kiwi consumers are encouraged to “plan accordingly” when shopping online, to make sure their international parcel arrives before the big day.

“Our global infrastructure, including more than 20 dedicated aircraft in our Asia-Pacific fleet, means we are able to keep trade flowing and limit disruptions,” said Foy. “In addition, we will have more couriers on the road to meet the demand.”

The four-month Xmas rush

The company has experienced high volumes since lockdown was imposed around the country in August, and has since continued in Auckland, said Foy.

He said it came as no surprise that shipping volumes were rising, given the growth in e-commerce in the past couple of years.

However, the volume of shipments has been accelerated by Covid-19 lockdowns and the deepening effects of global supply chain challenges. With global trade continuing to rebound strongly and the pandemic driving Kiwis to shop online like never before, the German-owned company expects this significant growth to continue well into 2022 and potentially beyond.

“Based on previous lockdowns, we expected there would be a surge in e-commerce shipments, however this lockdown has lasted all the way to our traditional Christmas peak period,” said Foy.

Traditionally, the peak starts on Labour Day weekend and goes through to Christmas, reaching its highest point in the first three weeks of December.

“But because of lockdown that peak really started in August when lockdown kicked off and we’ve been dealing withit since then.”

Since November 2020, DHL Express increased capacity between Melbourne, Auckland and Christchurch with an additional dedicated aircraft that operates five times a week.Throughout the world, and now especially New Zealand, the reduction of scheduled passenger flights means there is a shortage of traditional capacity.

“Until the passenger aircraft really come back, I think there still will be challenges for Kiwi exporters and importers to be able to move their goods around the world,” said Foy. “We don’t see that going away probably until the latter part of 2022.”

Goods were being shifted from sea freight to air freight, and to express services on specialised freighters.

Figures out today from the International Air Transport Association show there was a 10.4 per cent increase in international cargo tonne kilometres in October 2021 versus the same month in 2019.

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