Air transport is improving cold chains for pharmaceuticals

By: | Issue #636 | at 08:11 AM | Channel(s): Transport Intermediaries  

Air transport is improving cold chains for pharmaceuticals

Temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals are a rapidly expanding market segment but shifting standards are other regulatory challenges need to be met to realize market potential.

The demand for time and temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical products is challenging the air transport sector. In 2014, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) introduced the Center of Excellence for Independent Validators (CEIV) for certification excellence in pharmaceutical logistics to bring all stakeholders onto a harmonized system for regulations, audits and training.  As a result, fragile medicines, vaccines and test kits can reach the needs of patients worldwide.
In April 2015, Rodrigo Reyes, regional manager, Airports Passenger Cargo and Security, IATA presented:  “Healthcare in Air Transportation, Coping with the Challenges” at the Air Freight Logistics, Vietnam 2015 conference in Ho Chi Min City. “Only recently, has the industry moved cargo perishables in the belly of the plane.  Thanks to technology more cargo can move through the air,” he said.  However, he added that healthcare in transportation has challenges for time constraints, which are costly by air, and for temperature sensitivity which needs strong industry cooperation to liaise with all stakeholders to establish standards.

IATA’s Delivery Standards

Since 1945, IATA based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, gained over 260 members to represent 84% of global air traffic and delivers standards and solutions to ensure successful air transport.  Air transport has a very valuable contribution to world trade with only 0.5 percent of total volume across all transport modes (sea, air, rail, road), yet 35% of value for $6.4 trillion of goods. The need for speed in life and death vaccines, gene therapies and blood products is paramount, especially for emergencies and to developing countries.

Ocean container lines are answering the call to build refrigerated supply chains for food perishables and pharmaceuticals. “Ocean export is generally much cheaper than air export, but the transits from warehouse dock to consignee door are measured in weeks instead of days,” according to Reyes’ IATA presentation.  Maersk Line invested in its cool chain capacity by ordering 14,800 new reefers in 2016 on top of 30,000 it acquired last year, and Hapag-Lloyd in August added 5,750 refrigerated containers for its reefer fleet, according to Lloyd’s Loading List.

Reyes said air transport as a reliable and safe mode of transport is losing market share of global pharmaceutical products transport from 17% in 2000 to 11% in 2013 despite pharma air cargo growth by services from air carriers, handlers and freight forwarders growing from 2008-2013 by 6% to 12% from 2013-2018.  The causes are due to lack of compliance, standardization, accountability and transparency across the air transport supply chain. Annual product losses are between $2.5 billion to $12.5 billion for various reasons.


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American Journal of Transportation