UBCC 2021: The critical role of hub airports for efficient distribution of vaccines

Global distribution of vaccines for COVID-19 is probably one of the aviation industry’s biggest logistical challenges. In this regard, airports play a central role as gateways for the incoming and outgoing shipments of vaccines and equipment.

The second panel of Day 1 of the Unbroken Cold Chain 2021 hosted by Agility saw experts from across the globe come together to discuss the Important Role of Hub Airports in Transshipment of Vaccines.

Cindy Engelbart, Director-Life Science APAC, Agility, who was also the moderator of the session, set the grounds on the important role played by the aviation industry, particularly airports, in successfully executing the “Mission of the Century”. She also touched upon the important role played by technology and collaboration between the stakeholders and airlines.

Manoj Singh, India Representative of Pharma.Aero as well as SVP and Head – Cargo, Mumbai International Airport joined the discussion to highlight the role played by Mumbai Airport. He said, “At Mumbai Airport, which is India’s pharma hub, an advantage for us in the distribution of the vaccine was that, we had infra in place, trained people, and exporters who were distributing pharma all across the globe. We had a process in place and brought a new process: every vaccine and every distribution of pharma was mapped. We completely went into digital format.”

Speaking on the impact of the crisis on the airline capacity, developments on infra and people, Miguel Moreno, Sr Manager – Climate Control Products, Qatar Airways highlighted the need for collaboration among all stakeholders and the willingness among the stakeholders for sharing information. He said, “It has been critical at the time of the crisis on different levels to have good planning of capacity, infra and capability of the network, and having great communication – both internal and external. It was critical to making sure that the vaccine was moving as planned and according to specification.”

The panel during the discussion also highlighted the push that the pandemic has given in fast-forwarding the process and initiatives that had been long pending.

Milton De la Paz, VP – Airline Relations and Cargo Business Development, DFW International Airport brought to the spotlight the difference in vaccine distribution in India and that of the US. He highlighted that as the production and distribution of the vaccine are in the US itself, the challenges and difficulties faced in India or the Middle East are different in some aspects from those faced in the US.

This important session was also attended by Halit Tuncer, Cargo Director – South Asia, Turkish Airlines, and Julian Sutch, Head of Global Sales – Pharma, Emirates SkyCargo who put forth the perspective of airlines about the global distribution of the vaccine.

Julian Sutch, Head of Global Sales – Pharma, Emirates SkyCargo, spoke about the Vaccine Logistics Alliance formed by DP World, International Humanitarian City, Dubai Airports and Emirates Skycargo to distribute vaccines worldwide with a particular focus on the emerging markets. He also spoke the infrastructural investment, the Implementation of a system for handling Covid shipments and various other initiatives by Emirates Skycargo for vaccine movement. Halit Tuncer, Cargo Director – South Asia, Turkish Airlines, about how Turkish has been able to carry out vaccine logistics operations into busy hubs as well as to remote locations in developed countries and have been able to achieve milestone of having handles 100 Million vaccines. He also spoke about the new airport in Istanbul, which will have dedicated infrastructure to manage pharma and vaccines.

Thakur Purushhotam, Chief Terminal Officer, GMR Hyderabad Air Cargo spoke about the role played by Hyderabad airport in handling the vaccines and transporting them to different parts of the world under VAXCOR project. Hyderabad is one of the major vaccine hubs for India with many vaccine producers located in the vicinity.

Vilas Rebello, Associate Director, India Logistics – TEVA Pharmaceuticals, spoke about how in the current scenario; improved cold chain solutions, lane risk assessment, forecasting, compliance certifications and small consolidation centers are some of the critical points for a logistics service provider and about how Agility has been helping them with these requirements.

Jesal Doshi, Deputy CEO, B Medical Systems, spoke about the meaningful impact of Covid-19 vaccine transport on different payloads, temperature integrity and the shift to end-to-end shipping. He said shipping to rural areas in developing countries would pose the next significant challenge; especially in light of the new end to end supply chain and traceability requirements. He also discussed about the use of technologies like Artificial Intelligence can help in predictively diagnose failures and about the gradual shift from passive monitoring to active, real-time monitoring to which helps in preventing waste of pharmaceuticals and vaccines

The session concluded with the panelist mutually agreeing on the importance of innovation and keeping a collaborative approach to take the industry to the next level and write the success story together.  

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