Air transport groups find ‘a concerning lack of readiness’ for Covid-19 vaccine logistics

Survey results indicate that only 28 percent of the air cargo industry feels well prepared at this point


The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) and Pharma.Aero, a cross-industry consortium focused on reliable end-to-end air transportation for pharmaceutical shippers, this week sounded an alarm over the current state of air cargo readiness for upcoming Covid-19 vaccine transportation.

The two organizations recently surveyed airlines, freight forwarders, ground handlers, airport operators and solution providers to gauge their preparedness to handle the global logistics effort to distribute the upcoming vaccines.

While the vast majority of respondents have begun preparations to handle, store, transport and deliver the future Covid-19 vaccines, only 28 percent of them feel well prepared to do so at this time.

On that basis, TIACA and Pharma.Aero this week issued a call for “urgent industry collaboration” to address what they termed “a concerning lack” of readiness.

“We as an industry are as strong as our weakest link,” said Emir Pineda, member of TIACA’s board and co-lead of the joint Sunrays project initiated in August to help the air cargo industry get ready for the transportation of the Covid-19 vaccines.

“To move the needle on industry readiness, we need to ensure everyone is engaged and informed,” Pineda said. “Only with a strong and transparent dialogue between pharmaceutical and air cargo sectors, governments, non-governmental organizations and healthcare institutions can we overcome these challenges.”

Areas of immediate priority, according to the two air transport groups, require a focus on industry collaboration between the pharma and air cargo sectors; improving visibility and transparency; building adequate capabilities; getting support from regulators to speed up the process and remove cumbersome procedures, and receiving help from international organizations and donors to ensure that no country is left behind.

Such coordinated action would provide the maximum air cargo preparedness required to meet shippers’ needs and expectations for speed, security, reliability and transparency.

To strengthen industry collaboration, the survey sponsors called for vaccine manufacturers to involve all of their air cargo logistics providers, including airports and ground handlers, as early as possible.

TIACA and Pharma.Aero also called on air cargo stakeholders to map existing capabilities at each location and make the information available; secure dry ice, active containers, trained staff and cold chain space availability early in the process, and to start making any necessary infrastructure investment decisions.

To improve visibility, they suggested that the use of tracking and monitoring devices should be encouraged and the approval process for their safe use in flight should begin ASAP, along with the accelerated rollout of digital solutions and data sharing platforms.

As for removing barriers, TIACA and Pharma.Aero suggest that governments, customs authorities and border agencies should be ready to facilitate and expedite all Covid-19-related goods, and that international organizations, NGOs and donors should support cold chain capacity building efforts in the least-developed countries to ensure that no one is left behind in the upcoming global immunization campaign.

“We are still at early stages of industry preparation for the transportation of Covid-19 vaccines and there are still a lot of unknowns,” said Nathan De Valck, chairman of Pharma.Aero’s board and member of the Sunrays project. “Getting the equation right requires us to work together now.”