On Dec. 13, Southwest Airlines flight 3606 was 35,000 feet above Idaho en route from Seattle to Dallas when the captain announced to passengers that the plane was turning around and heading back to SeaTac – a measure that is only taken in the most critical of circumstances. In fact, the incident made headlines on major news sites like CNN, NBC and BBC.
So, what would warrant such an extraordinary turn of events? Crew members had discovered a container encapsulating a human heart had been left in the cargo hold. An oversight was made by the airline in Seattle, where the organ was meant to be removed and delivered to a local hospital. Mistakes are rare, but they happen – even at the mostly tightly run, highly regarded companies.
“Thankfully, our staff in Seattle worked with our dispatch team and others to make the decision to turn that airplane around to ensure the heart being shipped was salvageable,” Wally Devereaux, managing director for cargo and charters, said of the Dec. 13 incident. “If it had gone onto Dallas, that certainly would have been in question.”
It’s hard to think of an item more deserving of the title of “precious cargo” than a viable human heart. The highly perishable commodity has a window of time between a donor’s death and its utilization that is just hours before it begins to spoil, and its near US$1 million value drops to zero.
But where there is great risk, there is also great reward.
The time-critical industry is huge, and it’s only going to get bigger. Spending on the transport of temperature-controlled products, like human organs and pharma products, was projected to be US$15 billion during 2018 by Pharmaceutical Commerce magazine – a near 13 percent increase from 2016. And double-digit growth rates are expected to sustain through at least 2022 – a trend that the industry has come to expect as status-quo in recent years.
When it comes to such high-value cargo, measures must be taken to mitigate these risks. That’s where packaging becomes extremely important; the container chosen to carry that cargo is an essential ingredient to its safe arrival. Cold-chain packaging companies have been stepping up their game in product innovation in hopes that, in the rare case that a perishable item is misplaced – like in the case of the human heart – the container is able maintain the cargo’s integrity until the issue is resolved, so that the party at fault isn’t out $1 million.
So, it’s no wonder that innovation in cold-chain packaging is so… well, hot. In the past ten years, we’ve witnessed packaging firms get creative to rise to pharma shippers’ demand, employing improved technology and new strategies in order to meet the need for reliable cold supply chain management while keeping prices as low as possible. Air Cargo World sought to uncover how container companies’ strategies for staying ahead of the curve in 2019 and beyond.