Pharmaceuticals: Who Leads – Air or Sea Transport?

Airports around the world are waking up to the fact that they should have a position as “preferred centres” for the consolidating and shipping of pharmaceutical and other temperature controlled products.

But, is the air cargo sector really in danger of giving away a large part of this traffic into the hands of the sea freight carriers?
The Centre of Excellence for Independent Validators, in short, CEIV got going in 2013 with the aim of making the complete pharma supply chain more transparent by trying to bring common standards in which would be easily recognized and implemented by all concerned.

The first airport to receive CEIV certification was Brussels who had done a lot of work to put themselves on the map as a “preferred centre for pharma distribution.”
Others will follow as many airport managers have seen the future financial benefits to their bottom line once they are in a position to act as the key link in the supply chain.

Why then is there a danger from seafreight?
Is there really?
The market leaders, among them the shippers or producers of these highly sensitive products, seem to think so.
They put the blame at IATA’s door.
Not because IATA is seen to be incompetent. It’s more a case of them thinking that ocean carriers and their supply chain are doing a far better job and are listening to the shippers ideas and problems.
Sea freight is indeed still cheaper for pharma products - but this does not seem to be a deciding factor at all.

Is then the CEIV programme really working?
It’s early days yet. The programme is still in its infancy stages, but this alone does not appease the shippers who have apparently told IATA that the main problem is not so much with the air transport part of the chain, but mainly has to do with the other players within it.
Pharmaceuticals are sensitive products, but that does not mean that all pharma are “same sensitive.”
It is with this in mind that the producers are seemingly not convinced that those on the ground are really au-fait with the sensitivity of the goods they are handling.
And - furthermore, who is controlling who within the supply chain to ensure that temperature control is being fully implemented from A to Z?

Very few CEIV validated companies
One can only assume that if those within a certain supply chain are CEIV validated, that they know what they are doing and strictly implement the regulations.

The main problem seems to be that despite the fact that pharma and temperature controlled products are produced and moved worldwide, there are only very few CEIV validated companies at the moment, most of them in Europe and one or two in the Far East.

IATA, with the CEIV programme has got the ball rolling for the air cargo industry, but the question is as to whether it’s slowed down or stopped rolling in most parts of the world and is giving sea freight the distinct advantage.
As the business grows, so does the competition.
Ocean carriers have suffered for some time under lower margins and are desperate to get their hands on the largest part of the pharma market.

It would be a great shame if the initial momentum created by IATA and the CEIV certification were to bury its head in the sand.
There seems to be a lot of work still to be done and this can’t be achieved at bi-annual workshops or conferences.
The aviation industry needs a dedicated, round-the-clock CEIV management which will convince shippers and put their minds at rest.

John Mc Donagh

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