A staggering 750 million doses have passed through Brussels’ Zaventem International Airport (BRU) since the first vaccine shipments began on 27NOV20 and until the end of November a year later. An unprecedented record at least in Europe, presumably also worldwide, although comparative data from other international airports is not available or is incomplete to date.
Looking for a success story in these pandemically depressing COVID-19 times? Then read on: success can be planned if management has a clear vision, puts this consistently into practice, and
adapts it in the face of new developments to always remain one step ahead of the market and competitors.
That, in a nutshell, is the simple formula which has pushed BRU upwards to achieving pole position in processing vaccine shipments and pharmaceuticals in general. Meanwhile, constant refinements and adjustments fill this framework with life. Enablers are experts belonging to cross-company steering committees that analyze and fine-tune activities, eliminate deficiencies, or detect new trends and pro-actively implement these at an early stage.
Broad professional alliance
In the case of Brussels, the BRUcure Taskforce is the driving force behind the scenes. Its members, among them ground handling agents, shippers, scholars from the University of Antwerp, forwarders, and pharma specialists of the airport’s cargo division, engage in 8 different subgroups. Their common goal is the constant improvement of handling and shipping processes, based on an open data-sharing platform developed by provider Nallian, that fosters business cooperation between all parties involved. To date, this collaborative and cross-party approach has worked out more than well, as evidenced by the 17% growth in pharma shipments since 2019. Meanwhile, pharmaceuticals account for 8% of all cargo products processed at BRU, and this is not yet the end of the line.
CFG interview with Nathan De Valck
Yet, why has Brussels, particularly, become presumably the world's number 1 in the transshipment of vaccines?
“The BRUcargo team identified the pharma sector as a strategic field of growth early on. The fact that there are many pharmaceutical producers in our airport catchment area in Belgium and Western Europe gave us a good start,” states Nathan De Valck, Head of Cargo Product & Network Development at Brussels Airport. That was the decisive move, the manager recalls.
“We had the courage to dream big, developing BRU to become a leading pharma hub, although many people smiled at us at the time, and started ridiculing our approach. In a way, that was unpleasant, but we had a clear vision as a starting point and common guideline which we wanted to consistently fill with life.”
What came next?
“We approached all shareholders, aiming to get them into the chain that was consistently growing. Then, we identified the weak spots, because a chain is only as good as its weakest link.”
Knocking at the doors of pharma producers followed as a further step, the manager states:
“We invited their experts to join an open forum for exchanging views, voicing suggestions for improvements, and discussing issues with ground handlers, forwarders, and airline managers. The aim of the procedure was to develop a common understanding for pharma production, handling, storage, and transport from A to Z, in this way creating a platform for close cross-party support.”
What was the role of Brussels Airport?
“We initiated the project, spun a collaborative network for all members involved, and mainly moderated the processes. Our main task was to listen to all pharma stakeholders, offer them guidance, enable them to achieve higher qualification through quality improvement programs, and implement standard operation procedures that all member firms adhere to.”
State-of-the-art ground infrastructure
The airport’s focus on pharma was complemented by investing in the required ground infrastructure to facilitate the handling of the temperature-critical product. Meanwhile, BRU boasts more than 35,000 m² of cooled warehouse space in which to process pharmaceutical products: the largest area in Europe. BRU was the first airport worldwide to achieve CEIV Pharma certification in AUG14, a standardized global program that conducts onsite assessments to ensure that the knowledge and facilities needed to handle and transport pharmaceuticals, medicines, or vaccines, exist and are up to par. “Thanks to our many years of experience and on-going investments in the handling and shipment of pharmaceuticals, we are able, together with our partners, to support the vaccination programs worldwide. And we continue our efforts, day after day, to guarantee a streamlined and safe chain for these essential transports,” Arnaud Feist, CEO of Brussels Airport Company, stated in a release.
Hence, it is certainly not an exaggeration to say that lives have been saved through the professional job accomplished by all stakeholders of the BRUcure Task Force, in becoming the world champion team in vaccine handling.
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