The International Air Transport Association (Iata) has urged governments to begin careful planning with industry stakeholders to ensure full preparedness when vaccines for Covid-19 are approved and available for distribution. The association has warned of potentially severe capacity constraints in transporting the vaccines by air.
“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,” says Iata’s Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac.
“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.”
He says delivering billions of doses to the entire world efficiently will involve hugely complex logistical and programmatic obstacles all the way along the supply chain.
While there are still many unknowns (number of doses, temperature sensitivities, manufacturing locations, etc.), it is clear that the scale of activity will be vast, that cold chain facilities will be required, and that delivery to every corner of the planet will be needed, he adds.
And since the vaccines willbe highly valuable commodities, security will be a key issue while border processes and regulatory approvals will need to be fast tracked. This is particularly relevant in light of Covid prevention measures put in place by several countries which increase processing times.
On top of the transport preparations and coordination needed, an important consideration is the current diminished cargo capacity of the global air transport industry. De Juniac points out that airlines have downsized networks and put many aircraft into remote long-term storage. The global route network has been reduced dramatically from the pre-Covid 24 000 city pairs.
The potential size of the delivery is enormous, says De Juniac. “Just providing a single dose to 7.8 billion people would fill 8 000 747 cargo aircraft. Land transport will help, especially in developed economies with local manufacturing capacity. But vaccines cannot be delivered globally without the significant use air cargo.”
Clearly the air cargo industry will be facing its largest single transport challenge ever.