Over the past few months, most key players in air cargo have been preparing for what has often been hailed as “the largest ever logistical challenge” to come: the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines once available. BioNTech and Pfizer’s announcement recently has upped the speed of preparation. Astral Aviation, which is both a member of The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) and Pharma.Aero, and has been involved in the joint Sunrays Project focused on the safe and process-conform distribution of the vaccine, stated last week that it is ready for the task.
Astral Aviation is ready for the challenge of distributing the vaccine within Africa. It already has 15 African destinations in its scheduled network and is able to service another 50 on a
charter basis. Its freighter fleet numbers 14 aircraft in a versatile and different range of sizes including Boeing 727 Freighters, McDonald Douglas DC-9 Freighters, Fokker 50, and Fokker 27
Freighters. It is also awaiting delivery of the first converted B767-200 Freighter in Africa in JAN21, which will offer an additional 40 tons of capacity out of the airline’s Nairobi, Kenya hub.
The new aircraft will arrive just in time, since the expectation is that the vaccine transports will commence in the first quarter of 2021.
No stranger to pharma
The cargo airline, which was established in NOV 2000, regularly flies vaccines and pharma products on its aircraft, and “has played an important role in various immunization programs in Africa and across the world including supporting efforts to tackle Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and the Cholera Pandemic in Yeme,” the press release reads. Its drone subsidiary, Astral Aerial, has also been involved in various projects which could see vaccine distribution implementation via drones to difficult to reach destinations, too.
Regular medical cargo loads
Like a number of other airlines, Astral Aviation has carried out a number of relief flights over the past months. Charles Ngwalla, Alliances and Key Accounts Manager at Astral Aviation, declared that Astral had transported more than 15,000 tons of PPE, testing kits, ventilators, and similar products to over 40 African countries.
The Africa Freight Services Terminal located at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, boasts 3000 m² of temperature-controlled storage facilities able to offer 2°C-8°C and down to -20°C. In addition, 6,000 m² airside cold storage is also available. The hub is GDP (Good Distribution Practices) certified for Pharma-handling. "Astral's Pharma Product combined with the expertise of its Pharma team provides a reliable service for temperature-sensitive products across the network, which includes a safe re-packing and re-icing service, which will enhance the cool-chain value of vaccines for onward distribution within Africa," Alex Muhuyu, Ground Operations Manager at Astral Aviation, stated.
Success is based on collaboration
"Initiatives being developed by TIACA and Pharma.Aero, such as Project Sunrays, aim to help the air cargo industry get ready for the future handling, storage, and transportation of COVID-19 vaccines. Being a member of both Associations, Astral will have clarity on the needs and expectations from vaccine producers and share its experiences on the infrastructure constraints of distributing vaccines in Africa," according to Mr. Gadhia, who also underlined the need for all those involved in the vaccine transport supply chain to work together: from the vaccine producers through to forwarders, handlers, authorities, airports and airlines, “especially in Africa.”
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