A big job ahead
The first ‘Sunrays air freight readiness’ survey in September highlighted “a concerning lack of readiness” within the air freight sector for the challenge of COVID-19 vaccine logistics.
The majority of companies that responded to the survey, commissioned by TIACA and Pharma.Aero, said they had begun making preparations to handle, store, transport and deliver COVID-19 vaccines. But barely one in four said they felt well-prepared. And there was a significant deficit in the number of companies able to store or transport shipments at deep-frozen or ultra-deep-frozen temperatures down to -80°C.
Two months on, much has happened, and the two associations have begun preparing a follow-up survey. In the meantime, preparations by many air freight stakeholders have been moving forward rapidly – as highlighted by two major reports within this magazine, starting on pages 28 and 48.
The good recent work on airport cargo community cooperation, which has risen to a new level during this COVID-19 crisis, has continued, with several airport cargo communities setting up local dedicated COVID-19 vaccine logistics taskforces. These have begun to assess and build capacity, identify and fill gaps, and share best practice – and potentially facilities and resources.
Those already collaborating have seen that process accelerate, and new collaborations have arisen – not just on a local level, and including among the various air freight associations. And at a number of airports, where COVID-related demand and capacity issues have led to a mixture of warehouse under-capacity and over-capacity, cooperation between cargo handlers has helped even out capacity and resource issues – as highlighted in the Europe Report (page 56).
Concerns about the capacity to maintain vaccines at deep-frozen temperatures at various points in the logistics chain have included on board aircraft, where there are safety limits on the amounts of dry ice – usually needed to maintain ultra-low temperatures – that can be transported. But new capabilities have been emerging at a rapid pace – including deep-freeze containers that do not require dry ice. And as more vaccines emerge from late-stage trials that do not require deep-frozen product temperatures, some of these concerns may now ease.
Elsewhere in this issue, there are signs that COVID-19 has accelerated a number of plans to implement new technology solutions (page 20) at various parts of the air logistics chain – and existing trends towards growing e-commerce traffic and pharmaceutical volumes (page 4).
Amid the devastating effects of COVID-19 on global aviation, and the huge disruption it has caused to air cargo, the increase in collaboration and modernisation initiatives are two positives. And with the apparent imminent arrival of effective COVID-19 vaccines, aviation and air freight have some positives to look forward to. But in the meantime, this sector has a big job to do!
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