There is still time for investments to prepare for air freight’s vital part in the global supply of Covid-19 vaccines. But with a lead time of 3-6 months, the sector needs information from the pharma industry on what kind of temperature solutions will be necessary, says Andreas Seitz, managing director at DoKaSch Temperature Solutions
The Covid-19 pandemic has severely disrupted global transport routes. In turn, many actors along the supply chain had to find new solutions, facing enormous challenges. The transport of pharmaceutical products was significantly affected by the new situation. Irregular flight schedules and reduced cargo capacities are especially challenging for a field that is heavily relying on punctual deliveries. A delay in the delivery of pharmaceutical goods is usually no option because they are often in time-sensitive demand around the world. Furthermore, they can lose their effectiveness if the cold chain is interrupted. However, during the Covid-19 pandemic, many established transport routes were no longer available and the only alternative often were longer detours.
Detours not only take longer; they are also often executed by different airlines than normally. In turn, these alternative lanes might not have the required qualifications for the usual transport solutions. Accordingly, many pharma producers had to switch over to different transport solutions which are able to keep the cargo cool for a longer period of time and are certified for the new route. These might either be passive solutions with better insulation or active solutions like our Opticooler. Those are much more flexible to use because they can be quickly adapted to changing transport scenarios.
Furthermore, they can compensate delivery delays because they can keep the set temperature for as long as necessary if they are connected to a power source. In the last few months, the demand for our products clearly increased and we expect this trend to continue. To be able to serve higher demands, we also increased our reserve of containers. During the pandemic, this already helped us to fulfil the higher demand without any problems and we want to be ready for upcoming peaks.”
DoKaSch is also seeing a return to a more stable mode of operations. However, we consider the current state to be intermediary. While passenger flights are increasing capacities and frequencies for air cargo, we are far from being back to normal. The air cargo market has developed a new routine amidst a highly challenging situation, but I expect many changes in the future.
First of all, I assume that we will experience more decentralization, also on the pharma market to avoid strong dependencies on single countries in case of severe disruptions. This will change the established supply chain network in the long run. It is impossible to predict in which direction these changes will go, but I am sure that air cargo will remain an important pillar of global supply chains, especially for pharmaceutical transports.
One field where this uncertainty becomes very apparent is the development of a vaccine against Covid-19. By now, researchers around the world are developing different kinds of solutions against the pandemic. So far, it is neither clear when a suitable vaccine will be available nor where it will come from or what it will be. There are too many variables to predict which exact role cool chain transports will play in the transport of vaccines and which demand patterns will arise.
But it is clear that air cargo will take a highly important part for the global supply with vaccines. To prepare for that role, the air cargo industry is heavily relying on information from the pharma industry on what kind of temperature solutions will be necessary, which temperature ranges are required for transport, and how high the expected volumes roughly are.
Still time for investments
Right now, there is still time for investments. However, these need a lead time of 3-6 months until they come into effect. Therefore, it is important that the pharma industry provides the companies along the supply chain with the necessary information as soon as possible to avoid capacity issues. As long as there is no clear outlook for companies along the pharma supply chain, it is more complicated to plan proper investments into facilities or packaging solutions.
Overall, the air cargo community did a great job of adapting to these challenging times. This is mostly due to the good cooperation of airlines, producers and solutions providers. Everyone along the pharma supply chain knows how important the supply with pharmaceutical goods is and acted and in turn, all actors are acting accordingly by doing everything to find new solutions. There was a remarkable level of resilience towards seemingly unsolvable problems, and a high overall flexibility. These factors ensured the stability and capability of global pharmaceutical supply chains in challenging times.