Air India Express (AIE) has scaled up its daily cargo operations, using its B-737-800 fleet to lift agricultural products, chiefly fruits and vegetables, to West Asian countries, Singapore and Malaysia.
The airline is using its 25 international departures daily from across the country for export of agri-produce. It is also chartering some of the 24 flights in its fleet as ‘cargo-only’ to ship fruits and vegetables, the most sought-after items among the Non-Resident Indians. AIE flights with 12 tonnes of cargo took off from the Cochin airport on April 15, while another one with 13 tonnes flew from the Calicut airport on Friday. More such flights were on the anvil.
On an average, three tonnes of cargo is being lifted in scheduled flights. Besides helping rural farmers and NRIs, the service aims to keep the supply chain intact as commercial international flights are yet to resume after the ban following the lockdown in March last year.
The daily shipment of 70 to 75 tonnes is also fetching valuable foreign exchange as cargo flights of foreign carriers are yet to be given the nod by the Civil Aviation Ministry and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to fly to Indian airports.
Shipment costs, which hovered around ₹150 to ₹175 per kg when AIE intervened in April last year to ensure export of agri-produce to West Asia in cargo and passenger cabins of its repatriation flights, has dropped to ₹50 to ₹90 per kg this month.
“The cost of shipment had come down initially by 40% to 50% when Vande Bharat flights were operating empty from here to repatriate stranded NRIs. The prices have stabilised now, with AIE scaling up operations and foreign carriers lifting cargo in their ‘line flights’ from West Asian countries,” an airline source said.
In the last fiscal, AIE lifted 14,000 tonnes of cargo and 95% of it was agri-produce. The airline had come to the rescue of farmers from Kerala and Tamil Nadu and exporters by lifting agri-produce from tier-II cities to West Asian destinations. Hundreds of NRIs in West Asia, especially in the seven emirates in the UAE and Kuwait, had also benefited.
The Agricultural Products and Processed Food Exporters Association (APPEXA) says the exports now are fruits, including plantain and mango varieties. As much as 95% of the perishables are procured from Valiyoor, Kalakkad, Nagercoil, Tirunelveli, Cumbum and Theni.