I am aware that there has been community concern about the difficulty people are experiencing in receiving mail and getting freight to Norfolk Island. It is important to understand that we receive freight to the island by ship, passenger plane and designated freight plane and when we have goods sent to the island, we make a choice as to which of these services we use.
Weather will sometimes impact on freight arriving by ship. The most recent voyage of the Southern Tiare did not unload its full cargo which has in turn put pressure on current supplies on the island and increased demand on the designated freight planes.
The contract between the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Territories and Air New Zealand for subsidised passenger flights requires Air New Zealand to carry freight and mail. Air New Zealand will choose to carry passengers and their luggage over freight if the plane is at capacity or if bad weather means that they need to carry extra fuel.
In the last three months, the passenger flights from Brisbane carried an average of 675kg of freight and 110kg of mail per plane. From Sydney, the planes carried an average of 670kg of freight and 140kg of mail. The amount of freight carried on passenger flights in January was higher, averaging over 1,000kg in total per plane and much lower in March with an average of 570kg per plane. This is partly due to the bad weather that has recently affected flights. The amount of freight carried on passenger flights is also affected by the nature and amount of freight that is booked. Some passenger flights in the last three months have had spare capacity because freight bookings were low.
The Department responded to the decreased availability of cargo space on passenger planes late last year by seeking funding of a dedicated regular freight service to the island. In response, the Australian Government now subsidises freight services and these subsidised flights have been happening since November last year. The value of the subsidy in the 2018–19 financial year will be about $250,000.
The Department and Burnt Pine Travel have been coordinating these flights. The flight dates are flexible and they are moved to meet changes in demand. Due to high demand, the freight flight that arrived on Friday 29 March had been fully booked for two weeks. To help meet this demand, a freight flight scheduled for late April has been moved forward to the second week in April, but unfortunately this flight is also full.
This week, two additional freight flights have been added to the schedule of flights to help meet the increased demand. This means there are now five subsidised freight flights scheduled to arrive before 30 June. The flights are tentatively scheduled for 12 April, 3, 17 and 31 May and 14 June.
I am pleased to be able to say that the 2019 Budget has allocated $600,000 for subsidised freight flights to and from Norfolk Island from 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020. This means there will continue to be regular subsidised freight flights throughout the next financial year.
The Government's subsidy of freight flights means that the cost to send freight on these services is lower. Additional freight flights can also be arranged by businesses or individuals at the full commercial cost.
Members of the community who want to import freight need to get in touch with the freight forwarders early. Freight forwarding companies pre-book a specific amount of freight on freight flights which they sell on to individuals and small businesses. If urgency is more important than price, a freight forwarder can book the freight on the first available flight. That could be an Air New Zealand passenger flight or a dedicated freight flight.
Information on the subsidised freight flight schedule will be published on the Department's website in the near future.