Airlines are facing the largest logistics operation in history with the transfer of the coronavirus vaccine to 8,000 million people in more than 200 countries and territories, but they urgently need connectivity to be restored to ensure the success of the operation. The regional vice president for Europe of the International Air Transport Association (IATA, for its acronym in English), Rafael Schvartzman, explained to Efe that the airline industry is very familiar with the transport of medicines and vaccines. He adds that many of the restrictions that have been put in place in these times of pandemic “must be reviewed”, because it is necessary to speed up the transport of vaccines and do it in the most efficient way.
The sector has already established protocols to maintain controlled temperatures, not only in air transport but also in ground logistics, which are now joined by IATA recommendations on additional requirements and the necessary qualified personnel, among others. Air transport, he points out, is the only way to reach more than 200 countries and territories in the world. In industrialized countries, land transport can be an alternative, although with limitations.
An air logistics challenge
Industry sources indicate that in the coming months some 15,000 million vaccines will be distributed throughout the world and it is foreseeable that the distribution between countries will be done mainly by plane. In Spain, the four airports that move the most cargo are Madrid, Barcelona, Zaragoza and Vitoria, which have infrastructures to support the pharmaceutical industry.
Vaccines must be kept at very low temperatures: Pfizer’s has to be frozen (-70 degrees) and others will need to be dispensed at a constant +2 to +8 degrees. On a global scale, according to data from DHL, one of the logistics leaders, providers face the challenge of rapidly establishing a medical supply chain to deliver more than 10,000 doses of the vaccine worldwide, also in regions with logistics infrastructures. less developed, where some 3 billion people live.
To provide global coverage in the next two years, up to 200,000 pallet loaders will be needed, as well as some 15,000 flights across the various supply chain configurations, DHL notes.
In fact, the European Commission (EC) expects that with the covid-19 vaccination campaign, air traffic will recover in 2021 up to 50% compared to 2019 levels, which is why it has again forced airlines to reserve slots hours (slots) to keep them next year. Before the pandemic, companies had the obligation to reserve 80% of their slots, so during the first weeks of the virus some preferred that their planes flew practically empty.
To avoid ghost flights, Brussels lifted this requirement in March and extended the exception into October. However, with the first vaccine already approved in Europe for commercialization (that of Pfizer-BioNTech), it has reviewed its decision and has decided that the airlines will recover slots.
In the United States just hours after the Federal Air Administration (FAA) authorized the vaccine developed by the American Pfizer and the German BioNTech, the logistics giants of that country and the passenger transport airlines began to organize distribution throughout the country. There, United Parcel Service (UPS) and FedEx are the transport companies that are working with the US Administration for the distribution of vaccines, but regularly use commercial flights to support them if the number of shipments is too high.
In Spain, Air Europa and Iberia ensure that they have their logistics prepared to transport vaccines with full guarantees in the temperature conditions they require. Air Europa says that it has strengthened its logistics with the incorporation of active containers to meet the requirements of the pharmaceutical industry and has revised its procedures and facilities to have a network that guarantees storage and transport with active temperature control throughout the supply chain. cold.
Iberia points out that “for years” it has specialized facilities in the transport of pharmaceutical products that require very specific cold conditions, both in its cargo terminals and in the trucks that carry the merchandise to the planes and ensures that it is in contact with the pharmaceutical companies to define how to make the transfers.