Brussels Airport’s Airside Transporter Closes Gap in Pharma Logistics

Brussels Airport is testing a dedicated dolly for the airside transport and storage of pharmaceuticals. The ‘airside pharma-transporter’ should overcome the temperature fluctuation these products are subject to while awaiting loading.

Brussel Airport’s pharma transport unit  -  photo ms
Brussel Airport’s pharma transport unit - photo ms

In the months to follow the airport will be testing four prototypes of the system both in winter and summer conditions, says Geert Keirens, air cargo adviser with the local Chamber of Commerce (Voka Halle-Vilvoorde). The CoC is one of the 18 parties participating in the programme, named ‘Flanders Farma Project’. The others are: 4Advice, Adelantex, Alcon, Aviapartner Cargo, Brussels Airlines, DHL Global Forwarding, Expeditors, JDR, K+N, Nallian NV, Panalpina, the province of Vlaams-Brabant, SPS-Belgium, Swissport Cargo, UTI, the Flemish Institute of Logistics (VIL), WFS and Brussels Airport Company.

The pharma-transporter uses passive cooling, through insulated walls and floors. It was designed by BAC, in collaboration with the specialised equipment manufacturer SPS. The pharmaceutical shippers as well as the air cargo ground handlers were invited to give input. The box itself is mounted on a classic dolly. It guarantees that the transported products are kept within a temperature range of +5°C to +25°C during airside transportation.

Temperature integrity is hard to maintain
Research has revealed that maintaining the desired temperature integrity is one of the most imminent problems to solve in the pharmaceutical logistics chain. Should the tests prove that even with this new concept this integrity cannot be guaranteed, additional cooling systems will be added. The University of Ghent will look into the best possible technologies in this respect.

The design and testing of the airside pharma-transporter is another step in the strategy of Brussels Airport to position itself as the preferred gateway for pharmaceutical logistics, says the airport’s Head of Cargo Steven Polmans. “Over the past few years a lot of high-value distribution has move abroad. This is the more amazing, given the fact that Belgium is the world’s third exporter of pharmaceuticals, ranking only after Switzerland and Germany. The total turnover of the country’s pharma exports amounted to 49.18 bln USD in 2014. This explains why the share of this particular product segment in the Brussels air cargo volume is 5.7%, compared to a 3.2% European average.”

Geert Keirens
Geert Keirens

Yet, competition is growing harsher all the time, Steven says. “Maritime transport is increasing its market share in times when shippers and forwarders alike are exploiting cheaper transportation options. On top of this, they can more or less guarantee an uninterrupted chain starting at the shipper’s premises.”

Geert Keirens adds that, according to another study, errors and deviations are the largest at the handling side, esp. Storage, airside transportation and plane side loading. “Very often the temperature conditions fall considerably below the desired range during the airside trip.”  Flanders Farma Hub has the intention to put the pharma-transporters at the disposal of the air cargo community through a pool system.

Monitoring dashboard
The pharma-transport is not the only project Flanders Farma Hub wants to bring forward.  By developing a ‘dashboard’ all participants in the logistics chain will be able to monitor their specific responsibilities in real time and in full transparency. The system will be operated with applications, supported by the cloud infrastructure BAC is currently rolling out.
Both Steven and Geert are convinced that the airside pharma-transporter is a unique concept. “Not a single dolly in the market can be closed off completely” says Steven. “We will also provide in a complete mapping, enabling us to ensure that the system is actually working.” However, the concept should not stop at Brussels Airport”, Geert adds. “Eventually the concept will have to be internationalised. We must be able to register the entire chain from A to Z.”

Marcel Schoeters in Brussels

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