SA’s Air Cargo Game

Gavin Myers runs a seafood export business at Port Lincoln on SA’s west coast. He has customers in Australia, and around the world, eagerly awaiting his wares.

Guess who gets their dinner first?

“The people in Singapore get their product before anyone in Sydney will,” Mr Myers said.

“That’s because we are using predominantly road transport within Australia … but the Singapore guys are getting to it within 36 hours of most of the goods coming out of the water in Lincoln.”

That somewhat surprising fact speaks to two things — firstly, the vast distances in this country, and the transport cost structure faced by primary producers in regional Australia.

And secondly, the importance of relatively inexpensive, reliable international flights out of Adelaide.

A plane is loaded with cargo at Adelaide Airport.

Without those planes, Mr Myers said he’d lose 30 per cent of his business.

“We wouldn’t be dealing with too many of our exports clients at all,” he said.

“The direct flight out of Adelaide is certainly the secret to getting produce out of this region,” he said.

Most of the attention surrounding new carriers is what it means for tourists, both incoming and outbound.

The SA Government recently touted that over the past six years, there had been a 67 per cent increase in the number of international seats.

But while bums on seats are important, the CEO of Adelaide Airport, Brenton Cox, said it’s what’s beneath those bottoms that’s been crucial for high quality perishable exports: lots of cargo space.

“It wasn’t that long ago that 30 to 40 per cent of our exports had to make the long haul on a truck to Sydney or Melbourne, predominantly to then go out to reach our international markets,” Mr Cox said.

“Now we’ve got farmers in Victoria sending their produce for export out of Adelaide.

“Twenty per cent of the profit of an airline on those passenger services comes from freight.”

Direct service to the US would be ‘just fantastic’

But while it’s first class, and clear skies, for exporters targeting the Middle East and north Asian markets, companies that rely on the US are stuck in economy.

That’s because there’s no direct flight from Adelaide to any destination in the US.

Tom Spurling with optical equipment.

Yet for manufacturers like Tom Spurling, the US is a business lifeline.

“It is fundamental. Our business here in Adelaide would not exist without the United States market,” Mr Spurling said.

In a year that’s been defined by the loss of Holden, Mr Spurling is keen for people to remember that “we still make stuff here”.

As one of life’s curious asides, Mr Spurling’s father, Graham, once ran Mitsubishi Australia — back in the days when the company made Magnas and money.

Manufacturing is, so to speak, the family business.

A man loads cargo onto a plane.

Mr Spurling’s company makes ophthalmic lasers, which are used to treat eye diseases such as glaucoma.

Every time the company sends either its products or people to the US, it faces extra time and cost.

“Not having a direct route adds a day or two to everything,” Mr Spurling said.

“Whenever you do anything with a bunch of people involved, and you’re adding Adelaide and Sydney and Los Angeles, you end up with complexity and risk of it not happening.

“We have had stuff go missing — not often, but it is a very painful process.

“So long as it’s sustainable, so long as there’s a good business case for the carrier, it would be fantastic, just fantastic to have a direct service.”

A Singapore Airlines plane on the tarmac at Adelaide Airport.

Whether a direct Adelaide-US flight is on any airline’s radar isn’t clear. But it’s certainly a priority for Mr Cox.

“Historically Adelaide has been quite strong with medical exports, but it has to go out of the eastern ports,” he said.

“The real opportunity we need in this state is a direct US carrier, not just for people to come here and visit, but to create that direct channel for exporters.”