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Prompt action needed for air cargo sector to handle vaccine distribution

THE global head of cargo at the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Glynn Hughes, says the air cargo sector still faces challenges after not only been a lifeline for the financially troubled aviation sector and also acted as a lifeline for global society by transporting PPE and medical items around the planet during the Covid-19 pandemic

15 September 2020 - 19:00

THE global head of cargo at the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Glynn Hughes, says the air cargo sector still faces challenges after not only been a lifeline for the financially troubled aviation sector and also acted as a lifeline for global society by transporting PPE and medical items around the planet during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking at a recent IATA conference, Mr Hughes highlighted the association's work with regulators which helped to ensure that airport staff and crews could continue operating and processing cargo with valid certificates, despite lockdown measures in place in various countries.



'We're very pleased with the way that the crew restrictions have been maintained; crewmembers are not only able to do their work, but in a safe environment too,' he said.



Mr Hughes noted that a huge shortage in air cargo capacity has continued to be the biggest challenge faced by the industry in recent months, due to around 16,000 passenger aircraft being grounded.



'To use some of those grounded aircraft in an innovative fashion, about 2,300 passenger aircraft were dedicated to cargo-only operations,' he said, noting the role of regulators in allowing passenger aircraft to be used as 'preighters' to increase capacity.



'In order to secure cargo, specific and unique tracking systems were adopted so that cargo could be safely secured, but again we have to say that it's been a great collaboration between regulators in the industry to get the appropriate approvals certified and issued in quick fashion.'



The next big challenge faced by the air cargo sector is the significant role it will play in the transportation of Covid-19 vaccines.



'There will need to be nearly 8 billion doses and distributed around the world,' explained Mr Hughes. 'The volume of that size of shipment would fill more than 8,000 B747 aircraft - and that's just under the assumption that a single dose is required. If more than one dose is required, then you can see that there will be a considerable burden on the aviation sector to help transport these critical commodities around the planet.'



He urged governments to start acting now by collaborating with vaccine manufacturers to find out potential storage and shipping requirements.



'We have to look at the condition upon which these vaccines will need to be distributed,' he said. 'A vaccine is one of the more sensitive cargoes that can be transported and if they are, as it were a 'conventional' vaccine, then it will need to be transported between a temperature range of 2 degrees Celsius and 8 degrees Celsius.



'We know from a number of WHO coordinated programmes that are looking at potential vaccines, that there are up to 250 different programmes under development with about nine or ten in advanced stages.'



He added: 'Once a vaccine is produced, then it is important and imperative that it is distributed safely. There will need to be considerable focus on Africa, Latin America, South East Asia where there isn't as much potential for production.'



Mr Hughes said that the air cargo industry must start collaborating with governments, UN agencies, manufacturers, airports and other safety and security agencies, to make sure that there are suitable vaccine facilities at the airport of departure, airport of arrival and facilities throughout the supply chain.



'It's also important that border processes are looked at so that cargo such as vaccines can be processed quickly and that permits can be processed quickly,' he added.


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