AviationChangi's air cargo hub gears up to meet the logistical demands of handling temperature-sensitive Covid-19 vaccines.

Singapore poised to be a vaccine distribution hub

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As a major air hub and seaport, Singapore has been preparing for vaccine transportation since October.
As a major air hub and seaport, Singapore has been preparing for vaccine transportation since October. Photo Credit: dnata

Singapore has announced that its air cargo hub is ready for the safe transportation of Covid-19 vaccines to Singapore and the region.

Spearheading the project is the Changi Ready Task Force, comprising 18 members from across the Changi air cargo community, and co-led by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and Changi Airport Group (CAG).

A successful example of public-private collaboration, the task force has seen government agencies, cargo handlers, airlines and freight forwarders come together for this monumental task. Since October, the task force has been examining capabilities and data visibility, as well as mapping infrastructure and equipment to ensure readiness.

National carrier Singapore Airlines (SIA) will transport the cargo, backed by Changi Airport's cargo hub, which is the first and largest IATA CEIV Pharma-certified community in the Asia Pacific region.

“Over the years, Changi Airport has built a strong track record in pharmaceutical handling by air, from serving Singapore’s pharmaceutical manufacturing sector. We have good cold chain handling infrastructure and capabilities. With our strong air connectivity and SIA’s fleet of more than 200 passenger aircraft, we can deliver vaccines to multiple destinations according to demand," said Ho Yuen Sang, director (aviation industry), CAAS.

The task force will work to meet the various logistical demands of vaccine distribution, including assessing and ramping the hub’s ability to handle different types of Covid-19 vaccines — all within a stringent temperature-controlled environment to maintain the vaccines’ efficacy — as well as to manage an expected surge in the volume of vaccines to be transported to the region, once approved by regulators.

"The Changi air cargo hub has always placed a strong emphasis on pursuing the highest standards in pharmaceutical cargo handling. Given our efforts in infrastructure upgrades and manpower training over the years, our air cargo hub is well-poised to handle the transportation of Covid-19 vaccines," said CAG's managing director for Air Hub Development.

Cold challenge accepted

dnata_SIN_Coolchain 2
dnata and SATS will store the vaccine in temperature-controlled warehouses, with adjustable temperature ranges between -25°C and 25°C. Photo Credit: dnsata coolchain

The challenge lies in the deep freezing that's required by some vaccines. The Pfizer vaccine, for instance, must be kept at minus 70°C.

Changi Airport’s cargo handlers, dnata and SATS, have reportedly been enhancing their cool chain infrastructure and equipment in recent years to support a growing demand for temperature-controlled cargo.

dnata’s CoolChain and SATS’ Coolport for instance, consist of temperature-controlled warehouses with adjustable temperature ranges between -25°C and 25°C. Combined, they offer an annual cool chain handling capacity of 375,000 tonnes with the ability to scale up when required. Dry ice is also readily available.

The two cargo handlers have also recently introduced cool dollies (main) – temperature-controlled containers designed specifically for temperature-sensitive goods to be transported with the highest level of cool chain integrity and visibility on the tarmac, between the aircraft and their temperature-controlled warehouses. Complete essential surveillance systems are also installed to ensure the security of cargo.

Are there enough planes?

In short, yes.

Even though the pandemic has decimated air travel demand, Changi has been keeping busy with charters and scheduled freighter operations. Just like many other airlines globally, passenger services have been swopped out for cargo conveyance to alleviate the air cargo capacity crunch.

According to CAAS, as of 1 December 2020, the number of weekly cargo flights have tripled to more than 950 flights compared to end-2019. Changi Airport is now connected to about 80 cities by weekly cargo flights.

Currently, SIA continues to operate multiple weekly flights from each of the key European pharmaceutical export hubs, such as Amsterdam, Brussels and Frankfurt, with a regular network within Southeast Asia and Southwest Pacific. Multiple global integrators — such as DHL, FedEX and UPS — also have their regional hubs in Singapore, linked directly to Changi Airport.

As a major seaport, Singapore is also in a position to offer alternative solutions for pharmaceutical manufacturers to distribute vaccines into the region.

And since this is Covid-times after all, CAG and SATS is also part of the global task force Project Sunrays — a joint initiative between The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) and Pharma.Aero. Just like Singapore's SG Clean quality mark, this initiative ensures transparency between pharma shippers and the global air cargo industry, guided by measures to ensure the proper handling, storage, and transportation of high volume Covid-19 vaccines.

In recent months, IATA as well as individual passenger carriers such as United and Lufthansa Cargo, have been readying for a surge of pharmaceutical business when Covid-19 vaccines become available.

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