Capturing cool cargo: Top 10 pharma gateways

While global political uncertainty and trade tensions applied downward pressure on general cargo volumes in 2019, pharmaceuticals are one product market not affected by regular business cycles. Whether there is a downturn or upturn in the global economy, the market remains stable because the continued flow of medicines is vital. Therefore, growth in pharmaceutical shipments is expected to continue booming for the next several years, with most volumes likely moving through airports.

While it may be more cost effective to ship certain generic drugs that are not sensitive to temperature or time by other modalities like sea, some drugs are more complex and require special handling and faster shipment by air.

Many airports were possible contenders for Air Cargo World’s “Top Pharma Gateways” list this year, but 10 emerged ahead of the pack based on their overall cargo volumes handled and recent cool-chain development programs supporting pharmaceutical activities by air cargo and logistics stakeholders.

To learn more about the development of programs at these airports, Air Cargo World spoke with airport, carrier and ground handlers operating at these gateways about their work building up cool-chain programs to capture pharmaceutical volumes.

What shippers want

What makes a pharma gateway?

First and foremost, air cargo and logistics stakeholders determine which local and transshipment markets the airport can serve. Then, beyond the evergreen discussion of competitive price levels for shipments, providers must develop infrastructure and programs to support cool-chain operations.

Given advancements in technology and cooling capabilities, most pharmaceutical gateway airports host a dual purpose to provide companies access to local markets, while also serving as transshipment centers for cargo to move onto other airports or modes of transport. But that was not always the case.

“Five years ago, most quality departments at shipping companies required pharma to fly direct,” explained Julian Sutch, global head of sales for pharmaceuticals at Emirates SkyCargo. “Historically, they did not want pharmaceuticals flying through the Middle East because of the [high] temperatures.”

So, Emirates had to determine how to make its hub in Dubai efficient enough to move temperature-controlled pharmaceuticals through to compete with direct carriers. To meet these competitive requirements, Emirates opened its 8,600-square-meters of pharmaceutical facilities combined between its stations at Dubai International (DXB) and Dubai World Central (DWC) airports.

Emirates’ inter-airport operations in Dubai are supported by a network of temperature-controlled 40-foot refrigerated trucks, which are available 24/7. The carrier also uses cool dollies, which are equipped to transfer pharma-containing unit load devices (ULDs) directly from cargo holds and freighter main decks while keeping the cargo within a temperature-controlled area, with a temperature range that can go as low as -20°C.

Read more about Emirates’ pharmaceutical cargo operations moving oncological medicine in the Dubai in the Chill Out: Maintaining the pharma cool chain in hot climates feature.

“Delhi Airport has implemented various initiatives to attract pharmaceutical volumes from India’s major pharma manufacturing hubs, such as Indore, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad, that have gained considerable traction,” Videh Kumar Jaipuriar, CEO of Delhi International Airport Private Limited (DIAL), told Air Cargo World. “India’s pharmaceutical industry is growing at a fast pace and so DEL expects the volume of these products moving through DEL to continue to grow.”

Now, DEL hosts a temperature-controlled facility in an integrated cargo handling facility of 50,000 square feet that has a capacity to handle over 150,000 tonnes of cargo annually. The facility includes separate cool chambers to handle temperature-controlled cargo ranging from -20°C to 25°C.

In addition to relevant infrastructure, certifications and end-to-end operations are another indicator of spic-and-span pharmaceutical operations that companies will consider to determine the best viable option for shipping certain types of pharmaceutical products.

Attracting business through certification and collaboration

Beyond cool-chain infrastructure, companies will also consider what pharmaceutical certifications and programs are available at given airports, as well as available end-to-end pharmaceutical programs to determine the best viable option for shipping certain types of pharmaceutical products.

Recognizing this, many airports have encouraged carriers and stakeholders to pursue, attain and recertify for certifications, like the Good Distribution Practice (GDP) and IATA Center for Excellence of Independent Validators (CEIV) Pharma certifications for life science, health care and pharmaceuticals handling in a given airport, procedure or facility.

A slew of carriers, like Air France-KLM, Emirates SkyCargo and Cathay Pacific; ground handlers, including dnata and Worldwide Flight Services (WFS); and airport communities, like those at Amsterdam (AMS), Singapore (SIN) and Miami (MIA), have recently pursued, attained or recertified for certifications.

“There are a lot of certificates in the world and everybody’s investing in CEIV or GDP programs,” said Ferry van der Ent, Amsterdam Schiphol Airport’s director of business development for cargo. “However, just because a storage room is now certified, this does not mean the whole process is certified, or other facilities at the other end of a supply chain.”

Because of the requirements for pharmaceuticals, shippers, carriers and other stakeholders across the supply chain can expect facilities to be regularly audited by large pharma companies, as several large carriers and ground handlers have mentioned in interviews with Air Cargo World.

To address this challenge, top pharmaceutical airports, like Amsterdam (AMS), Miami (MIA) and Singapore Changi (SIN), are encouraging their airport community stakeholders to take collaborative approaches in developing end-to-end cool chains by pursuing CEIV certifications and joining global pharmaceutical associations.

Noting the increasing demands of the pharma industry toward faster and more reliable air transportation and higher supply chain visibility, Changi is also taking a community collaboration approach toward deepening handling and digital capabilities with its Pharma@Changi initiative. The program comprises of CEIV-certified companies, such as SATS, dnata, DHL and Singapore Airlines Cargo, with operations at SIN.

As a founding member, along with with Brussels Airport together with Miami Airport, of the Pharma.Aero initiative – a cross-industry, collaborative platform based upon the CEIV program intended to bring pharmaceutical shippers, airport and air cargo stakeholders together –SIN also pursues digital capabilities along with other airport communities through the Global Pharma Tracker (GPT), a common digital data-sharing platform, which integrates data from multiple sources to raise supply-chain transparency and reliability among industry partners.

MIA, which also takes this collaborative approach, was the first international airport in the U.S. to be designated as a pharmaceutical hub in 2015. Since then, six airport stakeholders, including LATAM Cargo, WFS, Kuehne+Nagel, Amerijet International Inc., DHL and Swissport, attained CEIV Pharma certification in 2017 and 2018, with several being recertified after that.

After the airport’ community attained these certifications, MIA was able to attract more business, according to MIA Aviation Marketing Section Chief and Pharma.Aero board member Jimmy Nares.

“Pharmaceutical cargo volumes between 2014 and 2017 were fairly flat, ranging between 13.6 to 13.77 million kilos in those four years,” Nares said. “But for the full year of 2018 we saw the volumes jump pretty significantly by 20.6% to 16.617 million kilos.”

“For 2019 we will definitely surpass the 15 million kilo mark and are encouraged at what we see as a good year thus far,” he added. “We’re pleased that we will have two straight years being over 15 million kilos of pharmaceuticals moving through the airport, and there’s still a chance we may hit 16 million for all of 2019.”

Clearly, pursuing collaborative ventures has placed companies in direct contact with stakeholders before and after them in the supply chain, ultimately supporting their ability to provide shippers closed cool chains.

As 2020 progresses, Air Cargo World expects to hear news of more efforts, both individual and collaborative, geared toward strengthening pharmaceutical shipments from stakeholders at these top pharmaceutical airports.

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