Vaccine flights: Air cargo swings into action

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The number of vaccine shipments being transported by air is gradually taking off as more products are launched and more countries launch inoculation programmes. Below you will find all the latest updates on air cargo vaccine transportation operations from forwarders, airlines, airports and handlers.

JUNE 7: Caribbean Airlines Cargo recently delivered 55,200 doses of Covid-19 vaccines from Miami to Jamaica. Over the past two months, the carrier has shipped vaccines — including Astrazeneca and Sinopharm — to Guyana, Barbados, Dominica and Trinidad. 


MAY 18: Caribbean Airlines Cargo have collaborated with Hainan Airlines to transport 100,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines to Trinidad and Tobago — the largest number of Covid-19 vaccines brought to the country to date. The vaccines were carreied on a Boeing 737 charter flight.


MAY 13: Volga-Dnepr Group carriers AirBridgeCargo Airlines and Atran Airlines have transported 144 thermo-containers loaded with Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccines on charter flights to Kishinev,Moldova; Mexico City, Mexico and Hyderabad, India. The operation was organised by The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) in partnership with DHL Global Forwarding.


APRIL 28: Latam Airlines announced today that it will continue to transport vaccines at no cost this year through its Solidarity Plane programme. To date, the group has transported more than 23.7m Covid-19 vaccines to destinations in South America, including Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Peru.


APRIL 27: Ground handler Worldwide Flight Services (WFS) and Air Canada are working closely with the Canadian government to transport vial caps for doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to support the country’s immunisation programme. Loïc Marie, cargo operations manager France, Spain and Portugal – Air Canada, said: “Air Canada and WFS in France have combined their respective expertise in the transportation of pharmaceutical products on behalf of the Canadian government. We win as one.”


APRIL 19: Ethiopian Airlines has transported 3.5m doses of Covid-19 vaccine from Shanghai to São Paulo, Brazil, via Addis Ababa. The vaccine arrived in Brazil on April 15 and so far the airline’s cargo business has transported more than 20m vaccines to more than 20 countries. Ethiopian Airlines Group chief executive Tewolde GebreMariam said: “I feel that our efficient and timely delivery of vaccines would save millions of lives that could have been lost due to lack of access to vaccines.”


April 13: On behalf of US-based healthcare company Nexus Pharmaceuticals, DB Schenker transported equipment for a vaccine filling line this week. With a total volume of 82 tons, it was necessary to charter a Volga-Dnepr An-124 aircraft for the flight from Frankfurt-Hahn in Germany to Chicago-Rockford in the US. The transported material comprised of a vaccine filling machine with isolator from the German specialized engineering companies Bausch + Stroebel and Franz Ziel. Once the production line is operational, it has the capability to produce up to 30m doses of vaccines per month.


April 13: Cathay Pacific Cargo has passed the milestone of shipping 15m Covid-19 vaccines around the world. The landmark figure includes vaccines that have been imported for use in Cathay Pacific’s home hub of Hong Kong, as well as supplies for distribution to countries including Mexico, Malaysia and Indonesia.


April 12: Since January, IAG Cargo has transported 2.5m doses into Latin America and the Caribbean using its Constant Climate pharma service. Daniel Byrne, regional commercial manager UK and Ireland at IAG Cargo, said: “With our sister airlines, British Airways and Iberia, we’ve already transported vaccines into El Salvador, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, and we partnered with Crown Agents to support the delivery efforts into several British Overseas Territories including Bermuda, Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos.


April 6: Malta-based SmartLynx Airlines Cargo has successfully delivered a consignment of vaccines from their point of origin in China to their final destination in Guinea, Western Africa. The airline has had the seats removed from two of its A321 aircraft to aide in the delivery of vaccines, giving them a volume capacity of 115 cu m and a maximum cargo weight of 22,000 kg.


April 6: Using a chartered Airbus A330 in an all-cargo setup, logistics firm Gebrüder Weiss, has been handling shipments of 2-3m Covid-19 antigen tests per flight since the beginning of March. The project was completed on April 1 with a flight from Shanghai to Linz utilising a B747 carrying 14m test kits from China to Austria. In total, five charter flights took place between China and Austria. The majority of the cargo was destined for pharmaceutical wholesalers.


April 6: SriLankan Airlines flight UL809 transported a consignment of Sinopharm (BBIBP-CorV) Covid-19 vaccines manufactured in China from Beijing to Bandaranaike International Airport on March 31. The handling of the vaccine doses by offloading and clearing on a priority basis was carried out by SriLankan Cargo.


April 1: Emirates SkyCargo has become the first airline cargo carrier in the world to have transported more than 50m doses of Covid-19 vaccines on its flights. The carrier has also transported more than 100 tonnes of syringes across the world to support the delivery of vaccines. Since the start of international distribution late last year, Emirates SkyCargo has transported over 220 tonnes of Covid-19 vaccines, equivalent to more than 50m doses, on more than 150 flights from manufacturing locations to 50 destinations on its network through Dubai. Overall, the carrier has transported six different kinds of Covid-19 vaccines.


March 31: Ethiopian Airlines on March 30 transported just over 1m doses Covid-19 vaccines in a single flight. Ethiopian transported the vaccines in six Envirotainers from Beijing to Harare via Addis Ababa. Ethiopian has also transported 300,000 vaccines donated by Chinese Government to Ethiopia. Ethiopian Airline group chief executive Tewolde GebreMariam said: “We have delivered more than 1m vaccine doses to Zimbabwe, Harare which is indicative of our commitment to collaborate with African governments at this critical time so that Africans get access to vaccines in due time.”


March 31: On Sunday, March 28 at Ezeiza International Airport, Argentine handler Intercargo attended flight KLM701 from the Netherlands that carried more than 200,000 doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine as part of the COVAX programme. Intercargo unloaded the cargo and transported the vaccines to the refrigerated chamber located in the airport’s Cargo terminal using refrigerated Dollies.


MARCH 29: Brussels Airport Company has launched its BruCare Readiness Label, which recognises Brussels Airport-based companies’ readiness to store and handle Covid-19 vaccines. Companies that have aready received the BruCare Readiness label include: Aviapartner Cargo; Bolloré Logistics; DHL Global Forwarding; Dnata; EFL Global; Expeditors; FB Logistics; Hazgo; Kuehne + Nagel; Lufthansa Cargo (Lufthansa, Brussels Airlines, Austrian Airlines); Singapore Airlines; Swissport Cargo Services; TUI; United Airlines and WFS.


MARCH 18: Airline alliance SkyTeam Cargo has launched a dedicated program for shipping Covid-19 vaccines. The V Excellence solution brings together the existing Customized Vaccines product, which offers special handling and priority, and the group’s Specialized Pharma product. “V Excellence is backed by a vast network reach combined with years of experience in special handling to guarantee the safe, reliable transportation of millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines between continents,” said SkyTeam Cargo chairman and chief executive of Saudia Cargo, Omar Hariri.


MARCH 18: Air France KLM Martinair Cargo has set up a customer Covid Service Centre to manage all of its coronavirus vaccine shipments. Senior vice president of sales and distribution GertJan Roelands, said: “Understandably, at this exceptional time, a great deal of attention is devoted to combating the coronavirus crisis and everything that comes with it, such as the transportation of vaccines. I am grateful that we can make an essential contribution to this. Our extensive experience and know-how, our dedicated and well-trained teams, combined with our wide product range and global network, are the most important pillars to provide our customers with the best possible service.”


MARCH 15: Cathay Pacific Cargo will temporarily add passenger freighter flights between Brussels and Hong Kong to meet demand for vaccine transport. The extra cargo flights are planned until June and the schedule will be adapted to market demand and the latest developments. Earlier this month, Cathay Pacific Cargo shipped the first batch of 1m Fosun Pharma / BioNTech vaccines from Frankfurt to Hong Kong.


MARCH 15:  Delta has moved Covid-19 vaccines from the US to Europe. Routes include: Madrid to New York-JFK and Detroit to Brussels. The carrier’s pharma capabilities include temperature-controlled warehouses, and its monitoriing service provided by its Vaccine Watch Tower. Rob Walpole, vice president of Delta Cargo, commented: “We have been shipping vaccines daily throughout the US with 100% reliability, and as the global effort accelerates, we have been able to leverage our international network and pharma expertise to extend our vaccine distribution into numerous international markets. Our unique Vaccine Watch Tower has been critical in providing our customers peace of mind throughout the shipping process, in what is often a complex logistics chain.” 


MARCH 15: Turkish Cargo recently collaborated with Kuehne+Nagel to transport 1.7m doses of vaccines, on behalf of UNICEF for its Covax project, from India to Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The carrier has already transported vaccines for the Covax initiative from Barcelona to Tunisia,  and from Amsterdam to Kiev, Tbilisi and Amman.


MARCH 11: Ethiopian Airlines has operated Covid-19 vaccine delivery flights from Mumbai to Addis Ababa and from Beijing to Brazzaville. Ethiopian transported the first batch of coronavirus vaccines from Mumbai to Addis Ababa on March 6 2021. The airline continued to play its prominent role in the vaccine distribution and transported the vaccines from Beijing to Brazzaville via Addis Ababa on March 10 2021.


MARCH 11: Etihad Cargo and EFL (Expolanka Freight) have carried a vital consignment of vaccines from India to Egypt. The two entities collaborated to carry a consignment of 12,475,000 Tetanus and Diphtheria vaccine doses produced in India, the largest vaccine manufacturing origin according to WHO. EFL handed over the shipment to Etihad Cargo’s care in Mumbai, with the UAE’s national carrier transiting the consignment through its hub at Abu Dhabi International Airport en route to Cairo.


MARCH 10: Passive temperature-controlled packaging manufacturer Softbox is supporting Pfizer with its rollout of Covid-19 vaccines. The companies worked together to develop a temperature-controlled, reusable parcel shipper developed specifically for ultra-low temperature shipments, such as the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be stored at around -70 degrees Celcius in order for it to be effective.


MARCH 10: Qatar Cargo recently surpassed a milestone  with 10m Covid-19 vaccines transported, including vaccines for UNICEF as part of the five-year MoU to support UNICEF’s Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative.  Since December 2020, Qatar Airways Cargo has transported Covid-19 vaccines to twenty countries all over the world including Algeria, Cambodia, Denmark, Pakistan Rwanda, South Africa, the Netherlands, to name a few.


MARCH 8: Amerijet has delivered Covid-19 vaccines to the Caribbean and Central America on behalf of Odyssey Logistics Pvt. Ltd.  These shipments were a part of India’s Government gifted Covishield AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. The vaccines bound for Jamaica, Guyana, and Nicaragua, were transferred via Amerijet’s 33,500 sq m hub at the Miami International Airport, which includes a 3,700 sq m temperature-controlled handling centre. “Delivering 350,000 doses of life-saving vaccines to destinations in our service region is something our entire company is proud of, and all of us at Amerijet are honored to be part of the global initiative to get the virus under control,” said chief executive Tim Strauss.


MARCH 3: Caribbean Airlines has transported Covid-19 vaccines from Toronto to Guyana. Marklan Moseley, general manager cargo and new business said: Caribbean Airlines is happy to have transported this important shipment. We have always carried temperature sensitive cargo and since the approval of vaccines for distribution, we ensured all measures were in place to transport same. Caribbean Airlines Cargo will continue to do its part in the movement of relief supplies throughout the region.” This latest shipment of vaccines will enable Guyana to advance the rollout of its vaccination programme.


MARCH 1: FedEx has today begun shipping the newly approved COVID-19 vaccine on behalf of McKesson Corp. to dosing centers throughout the US. The company has shipped millions of COVID-19 vaccines since US distribution began in mid-December 2020 and is prepared to scale up to accommodate anticipated growth in vaccine volume throughout the spring and summer. Nearly three months after Covid-19 vaccine distribution began, FedEx has shipped COVID-19 vaccines and supply kits to administration sites across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C. Covid-19 vaccine volume is split evenly with FedEx moving approximately half the doses allocated by the federal government.


FEBRUARY 27: Cathay Pacific Cargo carried 1m vaccine doses manufactured by Fosun Pharma/BioNTech from Frankfurt to Hong Kong. The batch was the first from Fosun Pharma/BioNTech to be delivered to Hong Kong, where Cathay is based. The carrier has already also transported a Fosun Pharma/BioNTech shipment to Penang on one of its freighters. Cathay also recently transported 1m doses of the Sinovac to Hong Kong. The doses were loaded in six temperature-controlled Envirotainer RAP e2 containers to keep them at 2°C to 8°C, in the bellyhold of an Airbus A330 passenger aircraft. The carrier also transported 200,000 of Sinovac doses to Mexico. They were stored in a single Envirotainer RAP e2 container and carried on a Boeing 747-8 freighter. Additionally, Cathay has transported a CanSinoBIO vaccine shipment via Beijing and Hong Kong to Mexico.


FEBRUARY 27: MASkargo successfully flew in the first batch of Sinovac Covid-19 vaccines from China to Malaysia. Flight MH319, utilising Malaysia Airlines’ Airbus 330-300 aircraft, departed from Beijing Capital International Airport at 02:30hrs and safely landed at KL International Airport at 09:00hrs.  The Sinovac Covid-19 vaccines were flown in utilising the MH Centigrade product designed explicitly for time and temperature-sensitive shipments. MH Centigrade caters to deep-frozen (-20˚C and below), refrigerated (2˚C to 8˚C) or chilled (15˚C to 25˚C) shipments using its active containers ACT (Envirotainer) and passive containers PCT (Normal ULD with dry ice and thermal blankets).


FEBRUARY 26: Incheon International Airport sees a constant flow of passengers and cargo and on February 26 a fleet of UPS trucks lined up at South Korea’s main gateway ready to receive its first shipment of Covid-19 vaccines. The vaccines were packed and stored in Belgium for their journey to Incheon; and then driven to designated storage facilities throughout South Korea – maintaining strict temperature and quality controls – to be administered to front-line healthcare workers and others deemed most at risk.


FEBRUARY 26: Kuehne+Nagel successfully helped Sinovac Biotech Ltdfulfill its first Covid-19 vaccine shipment from Beijing, China to the Dominican Republic. The pilot shipment containing 768,000 vials of Covid-19 vaccine was stored in active temperature-controlled containers and arrived safely in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, on February 23, benefitting its citizens just before its Independence Day. The shipment was closely monitored and compliant with the most stringent standards to guarantee product integrity. Prior to this shipment, Kuehne+Nagel successfully fulfilled multiple crucial assignments for Sinovac, including an air charter from Beijing to Turkey for a door-to-door delivery of nearly a quarter-million flu vaccines.


FEBRUARY 25: Silk Way West Airlines has operated more than 100 charter flights to deliver a range of medical supplies during the pandemic, and has now signed a number of ambitious contracts in preparation for the delivery of temperature-sensitive cargo. Supplies are safely delivered to specially equipped warehouses, and are handled by personnel specifically trained for the sensitive cargo. In preparation, the airline optimised operational processes, introduced new technologies and modernised the 1,500 sq m cargo terminal at Heydar Aliyev International Airport, with the refrigeration and freezer warehouse area was inspected and upgraded.

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