Cargo Executive: Industry is ‘Uniquely Positioned’ to Distribute Vaccines

The air cargo industry transports over $6 trillion worth of goods throughout the globe annually, accounting for approximately 35 percent of world trade by value — and according to Yvette Rose, senior vice president of the Cargo Airline Association, the industry has only become more essential since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our members have played an integral role in the transportation of essential medical supplies … and more people are ordering online,” she said, citing record-breaking statistics across the industry.

The shipping company DHL has seen a 35 percent spike to their volume, as one example. Atlas Air, which operates the world’s largest fleet of 747 freighters, also recently ordered four new cargo planes in order to meet demand.

Additionally, the steep decline in passenger travel has resulted in a reduction of “belly capacity” — or, space to transport goods within the bodies of passenger aircraft.

“The whole entire logistics supply chain had to be completely revamped and renewed to ensure that we can find space on freighter aircraft,” Rose said. “We have the experience and the ability to adapt our networks. …. Air cargo really has the ability to connect worldwide markets truly like no other.”

The first featured guest of the first Aviation Outlook webinar event of 2021, Rose explained that the air cargo industry — a global workforce that employs nearly 1.5 million people — was “called upon to serve” at the start of the pandemic. But she stressed that there is still much work to be done.

“Now, our priority has transitioned to vaccines,” she said. “We’ve been preparing for months but, really, our members have years of experience in healthcare logistics. We’re leaders in healthcare logistics. We know how to carry temperature-sensitive cargo. But I will say: A worldwide distribution of this scale is truly unprecedented.”

Transporting vaccines is a specialized process. The Pfizer vaccine, for instance, must be transported in dry ice, in containers that can only be opened two times per day, and for only five minutes each time. Otherwise, the temperature of the vaccines will rise, spoiling their effectiveness. To safely transport Moderna vaccines, they must be shipped with cooling gel packs that help regulate their temperature. 

“We’ve had to rethink. We’ve had to adapt,” Rose said. “We’re continuing to evolve and learn … and we’ve made significant investments in automation and technology to be able to do what we’ve been doing.”

Collectively, Rose added, the industry has the expertise, people and vision to overcome the challenges ahead.

“We’re uniquely positioned to handle (the logistical challenges),” she said. “And it’s rewarding to be a part of it.”

Rose also serves as chair of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee, and as president of the Aero Club Foundation of Washington.

The Jan. 27 webinar featuring Yvette Rose is available for playback online. For recaps on prior guests, visit the Aviation Outlook website.

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