Hurricane, volcano, pilot strikes... can it get worse?

American flower flights take triple hit

What do a hurricane, a volcano and a group of pilots have in common? They all make a big mess of the Southern American flight schedules - and it's no joke. The floral industry has hardly recovered from the consequences of Hurricane Irma, and already volcano El Reventador in Ecuador and the pilot strike in Colombia are putting extra pressure on the industry. Altogether, the flights are completely filled up so far and not all produce can be sent to Miami.

US importers
Hurricane Irma paid a punishing visit to Florida on Sunday September 10. Fortunately, the importers in this region recovered quickly and were back on track soon. According to Executive Vice President of the Association of Floral Importers of Florida, Christine Boldt, the majority of the importers were up and running again on Tuesday. However, the biggest issue was the airlines, as they did not start up the same schedule and the increase in fuel rates created an additional cost to flying.

This adjusted schedule was partly due to the lack of southbound cargo and the support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico. "Airlines make money on round trips. Flowers account for most of the northbound cargo shipments and as there was not enough southbound cargo coming in to fill those planes due to the Hurricane, airlines make decisions on not flying as many flights", explains Boldt. "Besides that, some flights were disrupted because the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) took up many flights to bring water and so on to Puerto Rico, that was also hit by the Hurricane", adds Tom Biondo of Royal Flowers.

"This all has put a lot of pressure on the flowers coming northbound as there was not enough space to get the flowers from South America to Miami", says Boldt.

Even now, two weeks later, importers are still struggling with space. "The demand for flowers is very high and the airlines still are not doing as many flights as they require. It is getting better, but it is not where it should be yet."

And if this is not enough, importers, but consequently also growers, are dealing with additional challenges.

Active Volcano in Ecuador
The volcano El Reventador lies in the eastern Andes of Ecuador and volcanists have registered activity since July. A potential volcanic eruption made some carriers decide to suspend their flights to Quito. "I have heard that one airlines has cancelled its flights for the rest of the week, till they know more about the activity of the volcano. Volcanic debris can get into the engines and can create dangerous situations", says Boldt.

Reventador is in constant activity, but most of them are minor explosions or water, vapor or ashes", says Alejandra Jarrín of Negrete Star Roses who refers to data from Instituto Geográfico del Ecuador. "They have registered activity since July, but the explosions are not frequent." Juan Francisco Pozo Manager of Information of Expoflores confirms that there have not been any frequent volcanic ash emissions over the last month. "However, if there is a strong eruption the flights could be cancelled."

And will the farms be in danger when the volcano erupts? According to Pozo, it is difficult to estimate the effects on the fields, as it depends on several factors such as the direction of the wind. Depending on the direction that the wind takes during the volcano eruption, volcanic ash emissions could affect the fields and crops. Negrete Star Roses and Royal Flowers are on the other side of the volcano and will only be affected if flights are cancelled due to the ashes."

Pilot strikes in Colombia
Avianca pilots went on strike on September 20 and they are now in their second week. These pilot strikes in Colombia are causing challenges for some Colombian growers. "We send flowers through different airlines and Avianca is one of them", says Ana Maria Puerta of Jordan Farms. "This combined with the already limited space in the planes because the consequences of Hurricane Irma put a lot of pressure upon us."

Fortunately, according to Jorge Ortega of Matina Flowers, even though Avianca is the number one company for passengers in Colombia, it is not for cargo for international destinations. "The pilot strike is only for Avianca and at the moment we haven’t had any issue with the cargo." However, Ortega thinks that the strike might affect the flower industry in a different, but very small way. "The customers who come to Proflora show and want to visit farms in Medellin next week might find some difficulty finding availability in other air companies."

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