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Canadian lobsters have pulled DHL’s dedicated freighter, linking the US with Asia and Europe, slightly off course.

The global forwarding giant expanded its bespoke lift early this month with a second round-the-world freighter, a B747-400F, routed from Shanghai to Cincinnati, back across the Pacific to Incheon, on to Wuxi and Frankfurt, before returning to Shanghai.

According to DHL Global Forwarding (DGF) management, the additional capacity was deployed to meet rising demand across a variety of sectors, mostly out of Asia.

But lobster exports from the Canadian east coast have prompted diversions through Halifax to pick up the live crustaceans heading for cooking pots in China, a programme that has been very successful, reported Gary Vince, DGL’s head of air freight, Canada.

And he indicated that more such services would follow, describing the perishables segment as “something we can’t ignore”.

The forwarder’s interest in seafood is no surprise. In September, it deployed a weekly B747-400F flight from Oslo to Incheon and Shanghai to meet increasing demand from the Norwegian seafood industry.

At Halifax Stanfield International Airport, lobsters and other seafood have been a huge driver of airfreight growth, which climbed 2.2% last year. Seafood exports to China went up dramatically, especially live lobsters, reported Glen Boone, director of cargo & real estate.

The CETA free-trade deal with the European Union is also benefiting lobster exports from Nova Scotia, thanks to the demise of an 8% tariff on this traffic entering the EU, he added.

A growing Asian appetite for seafood has fuelled frequent 747 freighter visits from Korean Air and spells of charters by Suparna, Qatar Airways and Atlas Air. Mr Boone hopes to boost his lobster exports further and has his sights on traffic that leaves Nova Scotia by truck to the US for subsequent lift to international destinations.

To accommodate the increased activity of widebody freighters, the airport opened a new apron in December 2016. Now the airport authority is looking to ramp up its warehousing capacity, particularly cool chain facilities, Mr Boone said.

Edmonton International Airport has similar needs. Projects to build a substantial cooler are in the pipeline, reported Alex Lowe, manager of cargo business development.

“Exports to Asia are dominated by perishables,” he said.

Edmonton is frequently served by 747 freighters from Korean Air and Nippon Cargo Airlines, which stop there en route from US gateways to Asia.

Canadian exports of perishables have been buoyant, agreed Brendan Harnett, CEO & chairman of Flying Fresh Air Freight, the country’s leading forwarder in this segment last year.

“We’re expecting continued growth. It is a strong market,” he said.

While the rising volumes are cause for cheer, margins are a different matter. Despite the increased traffic, margins have declined, which Mr Harnett attributes to increased competition in the perishables arena. More players have entered the market, notably multinational forwarders that used to ignore the perishables business in the past, he said.

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