The past couple of weeks were quite something! Air cargo transport is still chaos. First hurricane Irma, then Maria and if that wasn’t enough, local pilots decided to go on strike.
All of this contributed to the total disruption of our flower export. It was a snowball effect like we haven’t seen for a long time.
We knew it was coming of course, when Irma was on its way to Miami. Half the city was evacuated, cargo flights to and from Miami were cancelled, which meant that we had to cancel many of our shipments too.
Irma had hardly left, when Maria arrived. And despite the fact that Maria didn’t reach Florida, but hit Puerto Rico instead, this hurricane also did a lot of damage to our industry. Because, just like Miami, Puerto Rico is one of the main stopover places in this region for transatlantic flights. It’s where the planes are refuelled and where the crew is changed.
One solution is to reroute flights via different islands in the Caribbean, such as Curaçao, but they can’t replace the crew in those places. So, they’ll have to continue the flight with the same crew. And that’s only possible after the pilots have had their compulsory rest hours, often 24 hours later.
To make things worse, employees of the largest Colombian airline, Avianca, have been on strike since last week. Hundreds of pilots stopped working in anticipation of higher salaries, which meant that even more cargo flights were cancelled. Just what we needed… The lack of capacity has become such a big problem that airlines have responded by increasing their fees. We ended up paying more than 3 dollar per kg on a charter flight from Quito to Los Angeles last week. That’s almost double the normal fee.
And the patience of florists is being tested too – they generally have very little understanding for delayed flights or incomplete orders. They simply don’t seem to get how natural disasters that struck a couple of days ago, would still have an impact at this current moment.
A little reminder of how vulnerable the international flower trade really is.
Victor van Dijk,
Area manager South America, FleuraMetz