Survey: Air cargo braces for Covid-19 vaccine capacity constraints

The air cargo industry is expecting to face capacity shortages when a Covid-19 vaccine is developed and needs transporting around the world, according to an Air Cargo News survey.

The survey found that 50% of the industry is expecting to face capacity shortages in “certain areas” when a vaccine is released.

And while this will cause concern for shippers, forwarders and airlines, the majority of respondents did not go as far as saying there would be a “major” capacity shortage, with 27% of respondents expecting this more serious scenario.

Meanwhile, 10% of respondents said they expected there to be easily enough capacity and 13% said there should just about be enough cargo space.

In respondent comments, it was pointed out that capacity is already under pressure given the grounding of passenger operations and the sudden and urgent demand would only exacerbate the situation.

Other more optimistic participants said that there was plenty of latent capacity on the ground – passenger aircraft – that could be reactivated to meet a surge in demand.

However, others pointed out re-activating passenger aircraft would depend on pricing and whether carriers can do so at a profitable level.

Others pointed out that the volume of vaccines will be less than the amount of PPE that needed to be transported around the world earlier in the year, a task the airlines were largely able to meet, although there was a capacity shortage out of China and rapid increase in rates from Asia Pacific.

Another responder felt that a vaccine release would not happen in a single transaction and added there would be a coordinated approach with a geographic spread. This should help avoid a sudden surge.

Only one could be selected

Others pointed out that there could be pinch points when it comes to temperature controlled infrastructure, in terms of storage, aircraft capability and ULDs.

These concerns were reflected in the second survey question: Asked what the main pinch points would be, 75% of respondents (allowed to select more than one option) felt that there would issues around temperature controlled airfreight capacity.

This was just ahead of pharma handling capacity, which 71% of participants felt would be an issue, while 46% felt that airfreight capacity in general was a concern.

There were also plenty of respondents that said some regions would be affected more than others.

To the question, which region will face the greatest Covid-19 vaccine supply chain issues, 74% of respondents (allowed to pick more than one region) felt there would issues in Africa, just ahead of South America with 57%, the Indian subcontinent with 45% and Central America with 38%.

More than one option could be selected

One respondent said that there was limited airport infrastructure in Africa that could handle the vaccine, name checking Nairobi, Johannesburg and Addis Ababa as the hubs that do have the correct infrastructure.

Another added that cumbersome customs procedures in India and Africa would cause problems.

Poor quality overland transport infrastructure and capacity was also mentioned as something that could cause issues in certain developing nations.

The large Indian population compared with the amount of air cargo capacity was also identified as a reason why it might face issues.

To read our full report on the survey, make sure you are signed up to receive Air Cargo News every month.

More than one option could be selected

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Damian Brett

Damian Brett
I have been writing about the freight and logistics industry since 2007 when I joined International Freighting Weekly to cover the shipping sector.After a stint in PR, I have gone on to work for Containerisation International and Lloyds List - where I was editor of container shipping - before joining Air Cargo News in 2015.Contact me on [email protected]