VIE bids to be a pharma hub

posted on 29th May 2019
VIE bids to be a pharma hub

Vienna Airport believes its new Pharma Handling Centre will allow it to capture traffic previously shipped via other specialist facilities and cut shipment times to southeast Europe by at least a day, director for cargo services Sabine Petera tells Will Waters

Vienna Airport (VIE) is on a quest to become a major European pharma hub, especially for customers wishing to access southeast Europe’s growing market for temperature-sensitive medical supplies, following the opening of the Vienna Pharma Handling Centre (VPHC) in December.

Operated by Vienna Airport Handling Services, the airport’s ground and freight handling services business, the GDP-compliant facility promises to provide “quick and highly specialised handling of medicines”, with fast links between aircraft and road feeder services making it possible to rapidly transport temperature-sensitive medical supplies to up to 23 countries within one and a half days. With no other dedicated air cargo pharma hub in south-east Europe, the airport claims the VPHC can help cargo customers to reduce transit times to and from south-east Europe by at least a day, compared with pharma hubs currently used by forwarders and shippers in central and northern Europe.

Promising niche

VIE says the VPHC will enable Vienna Airport “to specialise in a niche with promising growth perspectives”, with demand from the pharmaceutical sector in Austria and in neighbouring eastern European countries having strongly increased in recent years. Austria’s national pharmaceutical sector alone is responsible for value creation of around €9.6 billion each year or about 2.8% of the nation’s GDP, according to the Austrian Statistical Office.

Vienna Airport (VIE) says the new VPHC means VIE “is the only airport in Central Europe to offer a complete end-to-end solution, featuring an uninterrupted cool chain, quick handling processes and short turnaround times between air, road and rail transport”.

In an interview with CAAS, Sabine Petera, VIE’s director for cargo services, outlined some of the capabilities of the VPHC, noting: “The VPHC is one of Europe’s largest dedicated pharma hubs with state-of-the-art and GDP-compliant facilities. The CRT – Controlled Room Temperature – (15°-25°) area is approximately 1,600 sqm and all processes are guaranteed in the precise temperature-controlled range. Inside the CRT area, there is a separate COL (02°-08°) room with 150 sqm for storage, build-up and break-down of shipments.

“The six truck docks are equipped with a special blocking cushion to avoid any temperature deviations. The VPHC provides a temperature monitoring system as well as full CCTV coverage. The facility directly connects the land and airside areas including short tarmac distances. For tarmac transportation, we offer four ‘Cool Trailers’ to prevent temperature deviations at the ramp side.”

What facilities were previously being used at Vienna Airport for handling pharmaceutical cargo?

“There are separate temperature-controlled rooms for perishable goods in our general warehouse that were also used for the storage of pharmaceuticals.”

How does the VPHC improve your capabilities compared with the previous or other facilities?

“The nature of the pharmaceutical industry requires an exclusive operation process, storage area and high reliability. Through the perfect temperature-controlled process and area from check-in to aircraft loading, the VPHC establishes an uninterrupted cool chain, quick and GDP-compliant handling processes and short turnaround times between air and road transport.”

Is it now fully operational, or are there still some capabilities being phased in?

“The VPHC started operating in December 2018 with fully-equipped facilities as mentioned above.”

What response has it received so far from customers and potential customers?

“Current customers are very satisfied with the VPHC, especially with the pharma-exclusive handling process and the facilities. We have received many requests for future cooperation from potential customers.”

What advantages do you believe the VPHC can offer to customers compared with  competitors?

“We can offer advantages based on the three unique selling propositions in comparison to our competitors:

  1. Vienna is the number one gateway to southeast and eastern Europe. Fifteen countries can be reached within one day’s driving time. This geographical advantage reduces transit time and thus minimizes temperature excursions.
  2. As the only full handling provider at VIE, we offer the entire range of services, from shipment acceptance, build up, documentation, transportation on the ramp as well as loading onto the aircraft. VPHC Handling Services is a responsible end-to-end handling partner for the customer with a single communications channel and no other interfaces.
  3. Finally, the nature of the pharmaceutical industry requires an exclusive operation process, storage areas and high reliability. In the VPHC we offer pharma-dedicated staff and high-quality service.”

You claim that VPHC helps to reduce transit times by at least one day. Compared with what/where? What allows you to reduce transit times by one day?

“According to a survey conducted with a special consultant in a pre-project phase, most shippers/agents bypassed Vienna due to its lack of special facilities and used other hubs in Europe for pharma shipments originating in our catchment area. The transport time for these shipments can now be significantly reduced. Customers can also benefit from the numerous long-haul destinations as well as the fast and reliable handling and customs processes at Vienna Airport.”

Will the VPHC be available to all carriers at the airport?

“The handling division of the airport is the sole operator of the VPHC. We offer our service to all carriers and forwarding agents.”

Where is the VPHC located in relation to the airport’s other cargo handling facilities?

“The VPHC is located in the middle of the airport, right next to the cargo and the forwarding agent’s warehouses and offers a direct connection between land and airside.”

How much pharma traffic is currently handled in the VPHC?

“In the first few months we have attracted a stable business with well above a three-digit monthly tonnage and promising growth rates.”

What are your targets and expectations in terms of the ability of the VPHC to attract traffic over the coming two years, and five years?

“We expect to double the current handling volume within two years.  Our five-year target is to reach our full handling capacity.”

To what extent do you expect GDP certification and CEIV certification to further increase the attractiveness of VIE to pharma customers?

“VPHC is certified as GDP-compliant, which is the most important feature for our customers. The CEIV certification is a logical next step and is currently underway.”

When do you expect to gain CEIV certification? Will that be just for the VPHC, or for the whole airport cargo community?

“The airport and all pharma stakeholders are aiming for community certification in the next couple of years.”

Do you have any other plans to further develop the attractiveness of the airport to pharma customers?

“We organize a lot of customer events for and meetings with the individual representatives of the pharma supply chain to promote the VPHC. On the facility side, we are flexible in terms of resizing the different cooling areas according to actual market demand due to a special construction concept.”

What volumes of cargo overall did Vienna handle last year? How does that compare with 2017?

“The cargo business at Vienna Airport developed positively in 2018, reporting a total cargo volume, including trucking, of 295,427 tonnes, a rise of 2.6% compared to 2017. Flown air cargo alone rose by 4.4% to 215,921 tonnes, whereas trucking declined by 1.9% to 79,506 tonnes.”