Uncertain Certification: Do CEIV-Pharma standards really help?

At an airfreight conference held last fall in Budapest, Marcel Fujike, senior vice president of products and services, global air logistics, for Kuehne + Nagel, commented during a post-roundtable Q&A session about the effectiveness of the growing CEIV standard for pharmaceutical handling. At one point, he remarked, “If we really want to move the industry forward, IATA needs to step up.”

The sleepy conference hall exploded into unexpected applause. Apparently, Fujike had touched a nerve about the state of pharma standards – and this was not the first time.

Back in 2013, criticism was running high over the lack of sufficient industry standards. Airfreight was hemorrhaging high-margin pharma freight to rival transport modes, due to millions of dollars’ worth of pharmaceuticals that sat cooking on airport tarmacs or languishing in warehouses outside of required temperature ranges. Consulting firm Seabury said that airfreight’s market share of the global pharma industry had fallen from 17 percent in 2000 to just 11 percent in 2013. One voice, in particular, stood out – that of Fujike, who famously declared at a Lisbon air cargo handling conference that the pharma business in air cargo was “a nightmare” and “chaos,” and that, all the while, “IATA is sleeping.”

Cut to five years later – IATA is clearly wide awake about the issue. Galvanized by the criticism, IATA consulted with its airline members in 2014 and launched its Center of Excellence for Independent Validators (CEIV) program, an amalgamation of IATA’s own temperature-control guidelines, the European Union’s Good Distribution Practices (GDP) and local and regional guidelines, into what the organization said were global and universal standards – the perfect fit for the varied conditions of the global airfreight business.

Over the subsequent years, the program has taken off. As of June 2018, IATA said more than 200 assessments had been made under CEIV-Pharma and at least 160 logistics companies have earned the rigorous certification. IATA has even expanded the program this year to cover Live Animal transport, and there’s talk about another cert in the works for Dangerous Goods.

However, Fujike is still holding IATA’s feet to the fire today. The industry’s progression towards universal pharmaceutical handling standards, he said in Budapest, has not moved fast enough. And where IATA is making progress, the application is still spotty. If we want pharma shippers to trust logistics companies, Fujike said, we need them to trust everyone in the supply chain.

Fujike is not alone in his criticism. “We were approached by a smaller forwarder looking for help attaining IATA’s CEIV-Pharma certification, because they couldn’t figure it out on their own,” said Stan Wraight, president and CEO of Strategic Aviation Solutions International (SASI). Wraight is an industry veteran, and he’s tired of the status quo. “If a freight forwarder thinks they need to hire a consultant in order to get CEIV-Pharma certification, there’s something wrong,” he said.

And, while it’s easy to point fingers at IATA, there are plenty in the industry willing to defend the certification, as well. It’s a complex picture. Pharma transport is unlike any other sort of freight, and even minor mistakes can cost millions of dollars, or even lives, making this debate critical to airfreight’s future.

So, as CEIV celebrates its fourth birthday this year, the question remains: Is IATA’s approach to achieving universal cargo handling standards working, and if so, is there still room for improvement?

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