Germans airlifting food to Yorkshire due to Channel blockage

Lufthansa jet loaded with lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli and citrus fruit for Aldi, the Co-op, Sainsbury’s and Tesco

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
,Ben Chapman
Wednesday 23 December 2020 21:46 GMT
Air lift: Germany’s national airline has flown 80 tons of fruit and veg to Yorkshire
Air lift: Germany’s national airline has flown 80 tons of fruit and veg to Yorkshire (Lufthansa)

In a scenario that has been called “a mirror image of the Berlin airlift” during the Cold War, Germany has flown 80 tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables from Frankfurt to Yorkshire.

A Lufthansa Boeing 777 cargo plane from the airline’s hub touched down on Wednesday afternoon at Doncaster-Sheffield airport.

On board was lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli and citrus fruit destined for Aldi, the Co-op, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

An airline spokesperson said the aim was “to help restock sparse UK supermarket shelves just in time for Christmas”.

A series of travel bans have brought much terrestrial commerce to and from the UK to a halt, with thousands of trucks stuck in Kent waiting to cross the Channel.

While UK-bound travel is permitted, many continental drivers are unwilling to risk joining the gridlock of lorries hoping to reach Calais and Dunkirk.

Bill Swan, a business architect who lives close to the unfolding chaos in Kent, described the exercise as “a mirror image of the Berlin airlift” – a Cold War episode in the late 1940s.

During a 15-month blockade by the Soviet Union of land routes between the allied sectors of Berlin and western Germany, the RAF and US Air Force flew millions of tons of supplies – mainly coal – to the city.

“At least the 777 has a larger payload than a Dakota,” said Mr Swan.

Lufthansa says the flight of fresh produce to Yorkshire could be the first of several over the next few days.

Tesco and Sainsbury's have said that while stocks of most items not under threat, fresh produce with a short shelf life may soon be in short supply if the flow of freight from France does not pick up to normal levels.  

Tesco has begun rationing soap, hand wash, eggs, rice and toilet roll to guard against panic buying.  

Lufthansa’s airlift took place amid worsening gridlock in Kent after the port of Dover and the Eurotunnel route from Folkestone reopened following a 48-hour closure of the French border to lorries from the UK.

Almost 4,000 drivers have been stuck at the abandoned Marston Airfield near Ramsgate which has been repurposed as an overflow car park.

Protesting lorry drivers closed a road and clashed with police in Dover on Wednesday after tempers flared over the delays in crossing the Channel just two days before Christmas.  

Police officers and lorry drivers congregate at the entrance to the Port of Dover
Police officers and lorry drivers congregate at the entrance to the Port of Dover (Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)

Footage showed a handful of officers attempting to push back a crowd of protesting drivers.

One man was arrested for obstructing a highway, while two others were later seen being led away to a police van in handcuffs following a scuffle between lorry drivers and officers at the port in Dover.

A police car was also damaged during a disturbance at the site in Manston, Kent Police said. 

Drivers must now have a negative Covid-19 test result within 72 hours before they can make the crossing to France. Many face the prospect of not getting home for Christmas because of the disruption.

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, tweeted earlier on Wednesday that testing had begun but told people to avoid Kent because “severe delays” continue.

He later urged lorry drivers stuck in Kent by the French travel ban to show “patience” while the backlog of vehicles was being cleared.  

The transport secretary told the BBC: "It will take a matter of days rather than weeks or anything else but there will be, I'm afraid, some patience required."

He added the government would continue to provide “welfare” to those hauliers who are stuck at the border.

Manston Airfield has become the main testing centre for hauliers, with drivers required to self-administer the tests in their cabs under supervision. Results come back in around 30 minutes and drivers who test positive must self-isolate. The French government will also carry out sample testing on incoming freight to the UK, the Road Haulage Association said.


A spokesperson for the RHA said the situation was worsening. “The testing is causing problems. The backlog is just going to get huge,” they said.

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett called for the government to do more to ensure drivers’ welfare.

“Who will be responsible for the deep cleaning of their cabs? And for those carrying return loads, what will happen to their cargo? This is going to be an extremely expensive exercise.”

He warned that the backlog would take a few days to clear.

Further delays will result in a “black Christmas” for UK food exporters with produce stuck in Kent face, according to Food and Drink Federation Scotland (FDFS) chief executive David Thomson.

By the time the backlog is cleared some goods, particularly seafood, will be spoiled, he said.

He told the BBC: “For those people who export fresh and perishable goods, particularly seafood and salmon in Scotland, it’s been an absolutely disastrous few days and it will lead to a black Christmas for those businesses.

“The deal will be far too late for many people who are delivering perishable goods to the continent.

“It’s too late now to get to customers before Christmas.”

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