Top Tasmanian produce is today being loaded onto the first regular international flight out of Hobart for more than 20 years, bound for holiday feast tables across Asia.

The Cathay Pacific 777-300 flights will deliver fresh Tasmanian produce including cherries, strawberries, raspberries, live lobster and eels, as well as salmon, abalone, chilled dairy and meat to key markets in Asia.

Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham said the Christmas boost for Tasmanian farmers and fishers would be very welcome after a year marred by pandemic travel restrictions.

“The grounding of international passenger flights during the pandemic left many Tasmanian exporters unable to get their quality produce into key international markets,” Minister Birmingham said.

“This is an historic day for Hobart and a great day for Tasmanian agriculture and seafood exporters who have done it extremely tough this year.

“This will go some way to helping them back on their feet so they can continue to operate with confidence and support local jobs.”

The Cathay Pacific aircraft, capable of transporting up to 44 tonnes of produce each flight, will operate three times a week ex-Hobart to Hong Kong from December 16 to February 10 next year.

The flights are being assisted by the Government’s International Freight Assistance Mechanism (IFAM), a temporary, emergency measure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries Jonno Duniam said Tassie produce and seafood was prized around the world for its quality and taste.

“This milestone marks the take-off of Hobart’s first regular international flight service in more than 20 years, and it couldn’t come at a more critical time,” Assistant Minister Duniam said.

“Tasmanian farmers and fishers have endured incredible hardship this year with the grounding of international flights.

“This is a timely boost for our fishers, primary producers and exporters who rely heavily on international customers to stay afloat.

“Our Government is proud to have created IFAM, which is making flights like this possible. To date, IFAM has enabled more than 30,000 tonnes of highly perishable and time sensitive Tasmanian exports to reach key international markets.”

Reid Fruits Managing Director, Tim Reid, said the Cathay Pacific flights from Hobart to Hong Kong would be a ‘game changer’ for Tasmanian fresh produce and seafood industries.

“The Australian Government’s IFAM support is most appreciated,” Mr Reid said.

“In addition to having a regular volume on every flight, Reid Fruits will strongly support the new service by ensuring every aircraft is filled to capacity with fresh cherries whenever there is a shortfall in freight from other exporters,” he said.

IFAM is part of the Government’s $1 billion Relief and Recovery Fund to support regions, communities and industry sectors that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.