Airlines and airports shift gears to welcome the COVID vaccine

With multiple vaccine candidates in their final stages of approval, Indian airlines and airports are gearing up for the most important mission of the century.

The Indian airlines have started preparations for ultra-cold shipping and storage facilities to transport COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna, which are likely to be among the first to be distributed.

According to a recent survey by an air cargo association and a drug shippers’ group, only 15% of industry participants felt ready to transport shipments near the -70 degrees Celsius (-94°F) required by the Pfizer Inc PFE.N vaccine, while around 60% could meet Moderna Inc’s MRNA.O less stringent -20°C requirement.

Also read: How much air cargo is required for the COVID-19 vaccine distribution?

Typically, airlines use containers with cooling materials such as dry ice to transport pharmaceutical products, but some don’t have temperature controls, making products susceptible to unforeseen events such as flight delays.

Speaking on the preparedness for distribution of the vaccine the GMR Group, which operates the Delhi and Hyderabad airport said, the air cargo units of both these places are getting ready to “play a pivotal role in the distribution of vaccine through state of the art time and temperature -sensitivity distribution system” with cool chamber ranging from +25°C to -20°C.

Budget carrier SpiceJet’s cargo arm, SpiceXpress, has tied up with global cold chain solution providers to perform seamless cold chain operations and offers cargo shipment with controlled ambient temperature between +25 degrees Celsius to -40 degrees Celsius.

Delhi Airport has two cargo terminals that can handle over 1.5 lakh metric tonne (1 MT is 1,000 kg) and has “temperature-controlled zones with separate cool chambers ranging from +25°C to -20°C, which would be extremely conducive for distribution of Covid 19 vaccines,” said a spokesperson

Further he said the dedicated transshipment excellence center on airside will ensure fast movement of vaccine and the cool dollies on the airside will ensure the unbroken cool chain at the time of temperature sensitive cargo movement between terminal and aircraft.

Similarly, GMR Hyderabad airport located at the epicentre of India’s vaccine production region is also well prepared when it comes to handling temperature-sensitive cargo.

GMR Hyderabad Air Cargo (GHAC) has India’s first pharma zone with certified temperature-controlled facility for handling temperature-sensitive cargo. The terminal is equipped with various temperature zones from -20 to +25 degrees Celsius The freighter parking stands are just 50 metres away from the terminal thereby minimising ramp exposure timing… We recently launched the latest cool dollies mobile refrigeration unit for airside transportation designed to eliminate any temperature excursions and to maintain the unbroken cool chain.”

~ GMR Hyderabad spokesperson on preparedness for COVID Vaccine

The transportation of the vaccine is of utmost importance for the national health as well as the air cargo business. As airlines have become more reliant on cargo for revenue this year as passenger numbers plunged amid pandemic-related travel restrictions.

According to Accenture’s Seabury Consulting estimates, the global roll-out of a vaccine will generate 65,000 tonnes of air freight, which is five times the air vaccine trade in 2019.

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