Boeing 747s Drafted In To Fly Plane Loads Of Potatoes To Japan

In times of crisis, the aviation industry has a fine history of stepping in to lend a hand – think emergency airlifts, evacuations, and repatriations. As 2021 draws to a close, that noble tradition continues. This time, a US freight forwarding company is swinging into action and using three Boeing 747s to fly potatoes into Japan amid a critical shortage of french fries in Japanese McDonald’s outlets.

Flexport is flying three planeloads of potatoes to Japan to alleviate a french fries shortage there. Photo: Vincenzo Pace/Simple Flying

A concerning potato shortage in Japan

Let’s get some background here. Due to a delay in importing potatoes from North America, last week McDonald’s Japan announced they were suspending sales of large and medium serves of french fries across the country. Oh no.

Normally, McDonald’s brings its potatoes in via ship from Vancouver. But flood damage and the impact of coronavirus on global supply networks have caused delays there.

“The fries shortage is primarily due to the supply side of McDonald’s global supply chain,” Hiroshi Ohashi, an economics professor from the University of Tokyo, told NBC. “They procure potatoes from the US, where port shipping has been a bottleneck.”

Step in Ryan Petersen, Chief Executive Officer at Flexport, a US-based freight forwarder company. On Wednesday, he confirmed via Twitter the company had contracted to fly three planeloads of potatoes to Japan to alleviate the french fries shortage.

How many french fries can a Boeing 747 fly?

When news of the potato shortage broke in Japan, there was a scramble to get the last serves lest a person be forced to live without french fries for a week or two. This only caused a further shortage.

“I did not plan to eat at McDonald’s today. But then, I knew from the news that McDonald’s will not provide fries in medium portions and large portions from Friday for a week,“ one fries scoffing local told NBC. “So I went to McDonald’s and had a set meal with large portions of fries.”

How many potatoes can a 747 freighter fly? One person online did the maths. A Boeing 747 freighter can fly about 112,760 kilograms of freight. A large serve of McDonald’s french fries weighs about 154 grams. That’s about 2.2 million large serves of french fries per plane.

This seems like a lot, but one person pointed out there are 2,975 McDonald’s outlets in Japan. McDonald’s 34,000 worldwide stores go through just over four million kilograms of potatoes per day. On a pro-rata basis, Japanese McDonald’s customers eat 375,000 kilograms of french fries a day. On these numbers, Ryan Petersen might have to back up for some further flying.

Flexport doesn’t have its own planes. Instead, it books space on aircraft operated by the likes of Atlas Air, Plus Logistics, and Western Global Airlines.

Flexport has a history of using carriers like Atlas Air to fly their freight. Photo: Vincenzo Pace/Simple Flying

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Global supply chains under pressure

It’s no secret coronavirus has hit global supply chains. One of the worst choke points is the west coast ports in North America. While Atlas Air and FedEx jets are a common enough sight, the vast bulk of freight travels via sea.

But freight and passenger airlines have carved out a niche flying perishable time-sensitive freight. However, bulk commodities like potatoes are heavy and bulky – not a great match for air travel.

But in times of crisis, dollars and sense goes out the window. Flexport will doubtless make some handy coin out of their deal – and they’ve generated some nice publicity as well. As for McDonald’s Japan, they assure their customers large and medium serves of french fries will be back on the menu by January 1.