Health & Fit Aviation prepared for corona vaccine transports

16:40  12 november  2020
16:40  12 november  2020 Source:   dw.com

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Frankfurt Airport is Europe's largest pharmaceutical transshipment point. Lufthansa is also hoping for a lucrative business with the distribution of corona vaccines. Ultra-low temperature containers must be used.

Provided by Deutsche Welle © Getty Images / A.-C.Poujoulat Provided by Deutsche Welle

The preparations for supplying the world with long-awaited vaccines against Corona have been in full swing in aviation for months. Frankfurt Airport, the largest transshipment point for air freight of sensitive pharmaceutical products that need to be refrigerated, plays a central role in this. A total of 13,500 square meters of precisely temperature-controlled space is available, 8800 of which Lufthansa uses.

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airline boss Carsten Spohr relies on a "large, highly profitable business" for the freight subsidiary Lufthansa Cargo. "As sad as it is, this crisis and the need for vaccination, this is going to be bigger business," he said recently. Lufthansa and its subsidiary Swiss Worldcargo were among the few airlines in the world that offered seamless refrigerated transport. Your competitors are, for example, the cargo airline Cargolux or the golf airline Emirates.

Securing supply chains

At Frankfurt Airport, the threads of all those involved in air freight - freight forwarders, freight handlers, airlines and the airport operator Fraport - come together at the Air Cargo Community Frankfurt. Your pharma working group has been dealing with various scenarios since March to prepare the supply chain, said Joachim von Winning, chief executive of the Air Cargo Community, the Reuters news agency.

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Mitarbeiterin erklärt die Vorgehensweisen im pharmazeutichen Kühllager bei DHL © Marc Schüler / Imago Images employee explains the procedures in the pharmaceutical cold store at DHL

Within Europe, most vaccine contingents are not delivered by plane, but by truck, as production takes place on the continent. "For our planning we assume that we mainly have to process exports from Europe, for example to Africa. Or that vaccines from India and China are handled in Frankfurt." The concept for the processes envisages that up to five aircraft can be loaded and unloaded at the same time. "Temperature damage is avoided by short transport routes."

Ultra-deep frozen vaccines

Video: Technik gegen Corona (Reuters)

It becomes a particular challenge when vaccines such as those of the Mainz biotech company Biontech and the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer are used, which are currently used only need to be transported ultra-frozen at temperatures as low as minus 80 degrees Celsius.

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"For air freight, there are special, so-called active, electronically controllable and controllable containers that are very expensive - they cost about as much as a small car", explained von Winning. The manufacturers - such as Envirotainer from Sweden, Dokasch from Germany or C-Safe from the USA - rented the transport containers to airlines and forwarding agents. It is possible that large numbers of them would only be needed for a few months if the vaccine, which needs to be kept cold, was further developed to tolerate higher levels.

Trockeneis - kalt und flüchtig © Imago Images / Imagebroker / Saurer Dry ice - cold and volatile

Dry ice for extreme cooling

In order to achieve extreme cold, dry ice is used - but this limits the amount of freight allowed for safety reasons. Because dry ice releases CO2, which takes the air away from the people on board to breathe. According to DHL, long-haul aircraft such as the Boeing 777 are allowed to take a maximum of 1088 kilograms of dry ice. "Depending on the type of aircraft, there are usually not more than a few containers on board at the same time," said von Winning.

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estimates of how many flights have to take off for a global supply of Covid vaccines range from 8,000 by the international aviation association IATA to around 15,000 by DHL. In order to get a piece of this cake, a task force at Lufthansa Cargo has been working on the organization since June, considering all possible scenarios. "Today we can say that all logistical processes are in place, they are largely standardized," said company spokesman Andreas Pauker.

Corona-Impfstoff per Lufttransport - Ultrakalt-Luftfrachtcontainer von Envirotainer © Hady Khandani / Joker / Imago Images Corona vaccine by air transport - ultra-cold air freight container from Envirotainer

The containers roll between the truck and the cold store through a "cooled finger" that protects against temperature fluctuations. Ultra-deep freeze transports are also feasible, but the exact requirements for packaging, transport and storage are not yet clear.

Freight capacity decreased due to Corona

Cargo capacity fell by a third due to the large number of passenger planes on the ground during the Corona crisis at Lufthansa Cargo. "That is a critical point," said Pauker. "Hopefully the passenger air traffic will start again." Because then there would be more cargo capacity again due to loading on the lower deck.

Author: Ilona Wissenbach (Reuters)

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