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Mission Of The Century: Air Cargo augments capacity to welcome COVID vaccine

Air Cargo Capacity remains a challenge for the vaccine distribution
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The aviation industry had found itself in the murkiest waters due to the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns. As it slowly emerges from the troubled waters, it faces a gigantic responsibility ahead, of seamlessly transporting the much-anticipated COVID-19 vaccine, once it is out. Efforts are underway to enhance capacity utilisation of air cargo. We explore the plans in place, the ongoing developments and India’s approach to handling the Mission of The Century.

The once-dethroned Aviation industry is slowly rising from the ashes. The coronavirus mayhem may have certainly crippled this thriving industry but apart from gradually getting back on its feet, it has delivered beyond expectations when it comes to serving the nation at its time of need, by flying medical equipment and essentials to various parts across the country.

However, more storms need to be weathered in the coming days as it faces the tumultuous responsibility of facilitating the transport of the much- expected COVID vaccine, with most of the vaccines entering stage 3 trial phase. It is imperative that the Air Sector addresses key issues of possible capacity crunch or reinventing its system to accommodate it.

Air Cargo Capacity: Scarce or Surplus?

The vaccines under trial at different parts of the globe have still not reached a stage where its dosage can be ascertained. While the dosage of the vaccine will directly have an impact on the requisite capacity, it needs no saying that the air cargo sector has to be fully prepared to deal with whatever comes to the fore. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently warned of severe air cargo capacity constraints that could deter efforts to deliver the vaccine quickly around the globe. While drugmakers run the race against time to develop it and the international aviation group speculate a feasible airlift plan, the question arises if India’s Air cargo sector has enough space to handle the logistics of the vaccine.

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

“The situation is certainly not free of challenges and globally the air cargo industry has witnessed issues with timely availability of capacity, re-scheduling of consignments and high freight rates amongst others due to the tight environment. However, a brief look at the air cargo statistics over the last few months also shows that the industry has carefully planned capacity according to the global demand.”

~ Manoj Singh, Senior Vice President and Head Cargo, Mumbai International Airport Ltd (MIAL)

Strategic approach to handle temperature-controlled air cargo capacity

Handling temperature-controlled air freight capacity will prove to be the litmus test for the Air cargo industry. There have been significant strides and advancements made in the direction of Temperaturecontrolled air cargo facilities that has wholly shaped the ability of the sector to transport everything from life-saving drugs to everyday perishable items. The need of the hour for the “mission of the century” would certainly be on how robust and effective the facilities are made for facilitating unhindered transport of the expected vaccine and most importantly, having an unbroken cold chain.

“Adhoc Charter services, Integrators, Scheduled Freighters and Passenger Converted Freighters will have a pivotal role to play in catering sufficient air cargo capacity to the Vaccine supply chain. Additionally, once international and domestic passenger flight operations are back to full swing, the belly capacity of these flights will add to the capacity available for the distribution of the vaccine” shares Mr Manoj Singh.

“The real challenge in my mind will be last mile connectivity to far-flung location across the wide geography of the country and how we are going to ensure cold chain integrity of the vaccine before it is finally administered to the patient. The efficacy and effectiveness of the drug has to be ensured by having cold chain integrity across the value chain of the drug supply:factory-to-patient.”

~ Vickram Srivastava, Head of Planning – Supply Chain Management, Ipca Laboratories Ltd

Making way for the vaccine amidst the turbulence of COVID-19

The IATA had earlier stated that shipping a single dose of the vaccine to 7.8 billion people will require the use of the equivalent of 8,000 Boeing 747 cargo aircraft.
Given that the air sector is already under pressure due to grounding of passenger operations, will the sudden and urgent demand due to the vaccine exacerbate the situation?

“Passenger movements have still not reached Pre-COVID19 level; it is highly likely that the numbers will peak anytime soon. Given this scenario, airlines will continue to operate passenger planes converted as cargo planes along with regular cargo planes, hence I don’t see any such situation happening”, shares Mr Satish Lakkaraju, Chief Commercial officer, Agility Logistics

“The biggest USP that we have, as a country, is the capability to manufacture the vaccine which will need great support from the government for the same to reach all over the world.”

~ Satish Lakkaraju, Chief Commercial officer, Agility Logistics

This is an abridged and edited version of the original story that appeared in the October issue of the Logistics Insider magazine. Click here to read the complete and unedited interview.

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