(July 20) Andres Ocampo has been watching the news, and most of it isn’t good.

Violence in the Middle East, militant unrest in Nigeria and nuclear missile tests in North Korea have kept energy traders uneasy this summer, with crude oil soaring over $76 a barrel.

While most consumers have felt the pinch of national per-gallon gasoline average at nearly $3, Ocampo, director of operations for Caliman International, Plantation, Fla., is more concerned about the cost of airfreight.

“It’s very volatile,” Ocampo said. “Everybody involved in transporting goods is very concerned with what’s going on. All we can do is hope it doesn’t escalate. We deal with expensive fruit. It could get to a point that it’s not feasible.”

Caliman imports Brazilian papaya year round. About 70% of the fruit is delivered by air.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Caliman’s freight costs increased from 40 to 50 cents per kilogram to $1.15 to $1.30 per kilogram. That translates to more than $4 a box.

Jet fuel was less than $1 gallon as recently as January 2003, but the Energy Information Administration reported July 14 that the price in Los Angeles was $2.16.

“The problem with air is cost,” said Lorenz Hartman de Barros, Caliman’s sales and logistics manager. “It’s difficult to bring it in by air when Mexico can bring it by truck or if Belize is coming in by boat. We have a superior product with great taste, but it’s expensive to get it here.”

Brazilian papaya is just one commodity that requires the timely delivery that airfreight requires.

“Raspberries have to be airfreighted,” said Maru Braemer, freight coordinator for Sun Belle Inc., Washington, D.C. “They haven’t developed varieties yet that can be boated.”

Sun Belle imports raspberries from Chile, where available cargo space is a challenge in addition to cost.

Sun Belle vice president John Hedges said that berry importers have to battle cherry, stone fruit and salmon importers — just to name a few — for space on crowded planes.

“There’s a lot of things headed north and a lot of competition for cargo planes,” said Hedges, who said the lack of backhaul into Chile exacerbates the situation. “Santiago isn’t a hub. It’s the end of the line.”

Braemer said Chilean importers are bracing for high transportation prices when the berry season starts in October, though, importers aren’t the only ones feeling the squeeze.

Michael Street, produce specialist in the Lenexa, Kan., sales office of Columbia, Md.-based U.S. Foodservice Inc., said the company receives herbs, specialties and edible flowers by air three times a week at its Topeka, Kan., distribution center.

“It’s real expensive, but a lot of your fine dining restaurants just don’t care,” Street said. “You can calculate your f.o.b. for herbs and specialties and average another $45 on top of that. The more you spend, the more you spread it out over your cartons.”