Bottleneck jams Chilean air freight fruit

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Bottleneck jams Chilean air freight fruit

A combination of high demand in the U.S. and technical problems with airplanes has led to a traffic jam for Chilean blueberry and cherry exporters. At we speak with industry players about how the build-up has affected them and their clients.

Hellman's export manager Ignacio Meyer says his company has witnessed delays of more than 96 hours for blueberry and cherry shipments to the U.S., with constant flight delays and a backlog of fruit in warehouses.

"The cold chains are also suffering because a lot of the time the trucks have to stay in the docking station, and afterwards they turn off the cold for a few hours - this causes a need for a cold shock to the fruit so that the temperature corresponds, but the traceability of the product is diminished," he said.

"It led to the whole chain being put out. We've had people working night shifts doing everything possible to serve our clients. We have kept them abreast of the situation through daily reports."

He said the most affected have been the new players in the industry; the small to medium-sized exporters who couldn't load their products because the warehouses were saturated with loads from large clients who had to store their fruit.

"They will absolutely be the most affected because not being able to put cargo in the warehouse today to make their shipments, they won't arrive on time and they will lose credibility, and finally will lose a lot of money."

Meyer said the repercussions would be seen in the coming weeks, with the belief there would be a ot of complaints from customers.

Hortifrut export manager Gustavo Salinas said the situation for his business was not "so terrible", as the company had planned with anticipation for this week's shipments and the fruit that was sent would perform strongly.

"It hasn't affected us that much. We had delays of 24 to 48 hours, and we were only taking fruit [to the airport] that had space confirmed. Yesterday [Dec. 11] I went to the airport and while the situation is not normalized, it is much more expedited," he said.

"The peak of the traffic jam was on the weekend and should have been the point with the highest congestion. There was an air cargo company called Centurión that had technical problems in several airplanes, which meant various flights were cancelled.

"But today [Dec. 12] the planes are refilled and while the situation is not fluid, the worst time of trucks waiting outside has passed."

Agrícola Gárces logistics executive Felix Melendez said now was the period when his company did air shipments with high demand for cherries.

"We have had approximately between 10 and 20 pallets lagging since Sunday, which was the day when the airport collapsed - this has meant a delay for all our markets, not just the U.S. Asia has also been affected."

For Damco Chile commercial manager Mauricio Padrón, the situation is no surprise. He explained that weeks 50 and 51 are when there are the most blueberries to send, also clashing with volumes of other products with high demand like salmon.

This is why he recommended air freight programs be organized in advance, only sending fruit to the airport when there is space.

"The system is not prepared. Such products need to go out imperiously at the same time, and this causes a big bottleneck," he said.

"The most logical response would be to bring in more aircraft at this time, but these planes have very high fees for the amount of fruit that is being taken, and this is unviable.

Meyer added the analysis for next year would be for exporters and airlines to work out better coordination, to improve transit and avoid traffic jams.

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