Air cargo industry group The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is urging governments to begin planning now with industry stakeholders to create supply chains capable of distributing a future COVID-19 vaccine, warning of “potentially severe” capacity constraints in transporting vaccines by air.
Even in years without major pandemics, air cargo plays a key role in the annual distribution of vaccines through well-established global time- and temperature-sensitive distribution systems, IATA’s director general and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac, said in a release.
But that process will likely be far more complex for a potential coronavirus vaccine, which still has major unknown variables, such as the number of doses, temperature sensitivities, and manufacturing locations. To cope with those challenges, it is clear that the scale of activity will be vast, cold chain facilities will be required, and delivery to every corner of the planet will be needed, IATA said.
According to IATA’s calculations, providing a single vaccine dose to the world’s 7.8 billion people would fill 8,000 747 cargo aircraft. Of course, developed economies with local manufacturing capacity will offset many of those flights through land transportation, but the estimate underlines the size of the challenge.
“Safely delivering Covid-19 vaccines will be the mission of the century for the global air cargo industry. But it won’t happen without careful advance planning. And the time for that is now,” de Juniac said. “We urge governments to take the lead in facilitating cooperation across the logistics chain so that the facilities, security arrangements and border processes are ready for the mammoth and complex task ahead.”
In addition, those challenges come at a time when the air cargo sector is mired at historically low capacity levels, due to coronavirus travel restrictions and travelers’ wariness of boarding airplanes. Those factors have led airlines to ground large numbers of passenger jets, which typically carry some 60% of global air freight volumes as “belly cargo.”
According to IATA, additional challenges will include boosting cargo security to guard valuable vaccine shipments from theft, and easing border restrictions to streamline regulatory approvals, security measures, appropriate handling, and customs clearance… Supply Chain Quarterly