…predicts Joerg Bodenroeder, Director of Handling Specials at Lufthansa Cargo, at the recent meeting organized and orchestrated by the Air Cargo Community Frankfurt. This leads to a multitude of supply chains operated in temporal intervals, flying vaccines from their future production sites to hospitals and public health authorities around the globe. The air freight industry requires a high degree of flexibility in order to guarantee deliveries, he emphasizes.
Medics and pharmacologists are still uncertain as to whether a single vaccination is sufficient to ensure against catching the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Most scientists estimate that repeated
vaccinations will be necessary to achieve immunity, especially as the virus appears to be mutating.
Waiting for the avalanche
Presupposing this, air transports will take place in waves, depending on how the pandemic develops, Mr. Bodenroeder estimates. Currently, there are 135 vaccines in development, of which 19 have reached an advanced stage and are undergoing safety and immunoassay tests. From this leading dozen, some serums are in a development phase that looks particularly promising and, provided further tests confirm the findings, could soon be admitted and recommended as a suitable Covid-19 vaccine by the WHO. This is expected to happen in Q1, 2021, followed by the first mass production and distribution in Q2 next year.
Provided this timeline is accurate, there will be different transport cycles for distributing the vaccine, starting with an avalanche in early 2021, and followed by successive waves thereafter.
According to Bodenroeder, this poses a massive logistical challenge to the entire air freight industry. Already today, 23% of global transport capacity is missing due to a lack of belly capacities. An alignment of demand and supply will not take place until 2022 or even 2023, the manager predicts, leading to severe capacity constraints.
More Q’s than A’s
But it is not simply a matter of transporting the vaccines by air. Finding fast and suitable solutions guaranteeing the safe handling and storage of the serums in cargo terminals is just as important. Which packaging is best to secure the integrity of the goods – are cool containers required, or does passive packaging suffice to maintain constant temperatures from start to end? Also the number of cool containers needed for transportation and storage must be established as quickly as possible. In addition to the existing CEIV certified trade lanes, more must be identified that require the IATA CEIV verification in order to guarantee the safe and professional handling, (performed by well trained personnel), of the time critical vaccines in warehouses and on the aprons of airports.
Frankfurt gets ready for day X
In order to clarify these points soon, “we now need precise information from shippers and forwarders, because only then will carriers be able to adequately prepare for the first wave of vaccines,” expert Bodenroeder emphasized at the recent meeting of Frankfurt’s Air Cargo Community. He pointed out that the organization established a Pharma Competence Team, which regularly meets in order to be ready for day X when the first vaccines are available.
Despite many open questions, Frankfurt’s air freight community feels well prepared for the soon expected avalanche of vaccines. At Rhine-Main, around 12,000 m² of temperature-controlled handling capacity are available, with 2/3 contributed by the Pharma Hub operated by Lufthansa Cargo. Soon airport operator Fraport will contribute additional 2,000 m².
Litmus test ante portas
Since 2018, the airport has been meeting the requirements of IATA’s CEIV Pharma certificate, as have 11 other ground handlers and freight companies operating in Frankfurt. In addition, there are freight forwarders and airlines that meet the EU GDP standard. This translates into a remarkable 75% of FRA’s transport routes that are certified. In addition, Fraport currently uses 20 ultra-modern thermal transporters to ensure the necessary temperature of the goods on their way across the apron as well. Given these conditions, it is no surprise that Max Conrady, Head of Central Cargo Infrastructure at Fraport speaks of an “ideal infrastructure for the handling and distribution of vaccines and medicines,” offered by operator Fraport.
The litmus test will come in Q1, 2021 when masses of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines will require handling at FRA.
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