The dollar or euro sign was already looming in the eyes of airline managers when they spoke of an upcoming avalanche of Covid-19 vaccines to be transported by air – the biggest airlift ever. That was last October and November. Today, 4 months later, the actual figures are rather sobering.
The appeal aired by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on 09SEP20, sounded dramatic. “We urge governments to begin careful planning with industry stakeholders to ensure full preparedness when vaccines for Covid-19 are approved and available for distribution.” Shipping coronavirus vaccines around the world will be “the largest transport challenge ever,” requiring the equivalent of 8,000 Boeing 747 freighters, IATA Head, Alexandre de Juniac and his functionaries predicted. To accomplish this challenge, IATA kicked off a variety of initiatives aimed at setting up a global airlift plan.
Much ado about little
Meanwhile, BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson&Johnson are producing Covid-19 vaccines around the clock, complemented by Russian Sputnik V and the Chinese serum, Sinovac. And the consequences for air freight?
Some Covid-19 shipments loaded on board an aircraft are spotted here and there, but the forecasted avalanche of corona vaccines is nowhere in sight. At least, not yet!
While presenting her airline’s 2021 results and touching on the vaccine issue, Lufthansa Cargo CEO, Dorothea von Boxberg spoke of about 45% percent of the total global vaccine volume that was expected to be transported by air. This corresponds to around 87,000 tons. Of this, “we hope to capture 10,000 tons,” she said. A figure that would roughly fill the main decks of 100 Boeing 777 freighters, and an amount that appears to be very manageable compared to the initial, lofty IATA announcements on required uplift capacity.
Truck beats plane
As to this date, most vaccine consignments have been trucked from their production sites to local or regional dose centers. “Currently, we see even less air transports than originally thought, because there is still a big vaccine bottleneck and therefore much remains in the regions where it is produced - that is: in the U.S., India, China, or the EU. But this will change massively in the course of the year,” states Andreas Seitz, MD of ULD provider DoKaSch-TS.
Shipments that are flown, are accommodated in deep freeze boxes filled with ice to secure temperatures between -20° Centigrade and -70° Celsius during transportation. But as vaccine production picks up, most of the forthcoming serums will tolerate a temperature range of between +2° Celsius and +8° C. This is where DoKaSch-TS’s RAP Opticoolers come into play. They are cooled electrically and guarantee constant interior temperatures of between +2° to +8° over a period of 120 hours. A similar ULD is offered by competitor, Envirotainer, with its RKN e1 container, which uses electrical heating and compressor cooling to maintain constant low temperatures throughout the journey.
Until now, however, both leading ULD providers are still waiting for the Covid-19 vaccines to be flown en masse. “Up to now, we've had a shipment here and there at most. But looking at things from a positive angle, we do expect demand to increase over the course of the year. However, not as dramatically as we originally thought,” states Mr. Seitz.
Should demand for his company’s cool boxes pick up unexpectedly fast, DoKaSch-TS has about 100 RAP Opticoolers on stock for immediate use, he stresses. “They can be deployed right on the spot to move vaccines quickly and safely by air.”
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