Aviation is playing an increasingly critical role in the delivery of vaccines worldwide with air shipments estimated to peak in the second quarter of 2021. Global transport infrastructure and supply chains are bracing themselves for this complex task which will undoubtedly present a massively complex logistical challenge. So, to make vaccines available as quickly and safely as possible, a smooth vaccine global distribution system must be ensured by leveraging existing networks and processes. Here in the UAE, the Hope Coalition initiative has been launched to facilitate this smooth distribution of 6 billion doses around the globe, with plans to increase capacity to 18 billion by the end of this year.
Expediting vaccine distribution presents big challenges for aviators. With almost half of cargo distributed by air going in the bellies of regular airliners, the current worldwide dip in flight volume will result in distribution challenges. Although many airlines have converted passenger aircraft to transport cargo and GA operations continue despite travel restrictions, meeting the capacity demand may be an issue and this would have a knock-on effect of slowing distribution down – a major setback for global health and economic recovery.
Lockdowns, border closures, and quarantine periods pose massive challenges for immigration. This is why IATA is developing the IATA Travel Pass – it aims to provide a standardized template for travelers’ health information so governments can be assured that they are not importing COVID-19 without having to sacrifice air connectivity. The digital platform will inform users of what tests, documents, vaccines, etc. they require to travel to certain areas. It will also enable them to share their test results and vaccine certification in a safe and secure manner. This is truly great news for aviation!
Another vaccine transportation challenge is storage as certain temperatures must be maintained to preserve vaccination shots. Every Vaccine requires a different temperature configuration; some need 2-8 degrees which can be controlled by aircraft itself, however others (such as the from Pfizer and BioNTech) require -70 degrees. This is when special containers called Envirotainers are required to maintain this temperature throughout the journey. On the ground, ultra-low temperature freezers are needed to store the vaccine as it makes its way to its destination.
Foreseeing the tremendous role the industry will play in vaccine distribution, aviation associations and operators have been busy preparing. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has long since called on international governments to treat aviation employees as essential workers so they receive the vaccine as a priority (after key health workers and vulnerable people) and expedite the distribution process. IATA also partnered with the ICAO and the World Trade Organization (WTO) to create guidelines to enable airports and aviators to best handle the complexities of large-scale distribution and work with international regulatory bodies to facilitate the efficient movement of air cargo.
Governments have also been preparing their distribution strategies. Back in November, the United Arab Emirates launched an initiative to facilitate the distribution of 6 billion doses all over the globe and increasing this capacity to 18 billion by the end of 2021. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has established and tested logistical plans with manufacturers and commercial partners as part of its centralized vaccine delivery system and is now coordinating supplies and distribution. Airports all over the globe have been boosting security and expanding cold-storage facilities to store doses at the required temperatures.
This commitment to expedite vaccine air transportation throughout the aviation supply chain illustrates how business aviation is perfectly placed to overcome any challenge this massive undertaking may bring. At UAS, we have long since cut our teeth on some of the most complex and exacting operational challenges that have ever existed – and we are ready to continue to do so throughout 2021 as we continue to play our part in COVID recovery.
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