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Hactl is Ready for the Vaccine Airlift

Article submitted by Hactl – TIACA Trustee Member

Given the increasing number of COVID-19 vaccines in various stages of production, the bewildering array of deals between suppliers and governments, the increasing number of production locations coming on stream and the different conditions for transport that are required for the different vaccines, it is hard to predict the degree to which any airport or carrier is likely to become involved in what could prove to be the biggest and most prolonged airlift in air cargo history.

In the early days of 2021, production units have been mainly serving local demand. Initial distribution of COVID-19 vaccine was mostly performed by integrators and national carriers, with limited inter-continental tonnage evident. When more vaccines are approved and become available in the market, the vaccine logistics effort will require coordinated effort from all stakeholders in the air cargo supply chain.

No airline or logistics company involved in this vital mission will risk their reputation by using sub-standard service partners or routes on which there is disparity in the pharma capabilities. The pharma supply chain is, more than anything else, limited by the strength of its weakest link. Service partner credentials will accordingly be under scrutiny as never before.

Ground operations are sometimes identified as the weakest link in air cargo transportation. As a ground handler, accreditations like IATA CEIV Pharma and WHO GPD are a reassurance of compliance with best practice, and conformity with globally-recognised, uniform parameters – and that our pharma offering provides the COVID-19 vaccine producers with the absolute certainty they demand of their supply chains.

In the case of Hactl, our pharma readiness results from significant investment in equipment and the total re-engineering of the handling process. We have a multi-zoned (15°C to 25°C, 2°C to 8°C, and -15°C to -25°C) temperature controlled facility spanning over 2,000 sqm; 24/7 CCTV and security staff; thermal dollies to avoid temperature excursions on the ramp; and support for dry-ice containers and re-charging of e-containers. Our “Golden Route” provides the fastest possible route through our facility, and we can further customise SOPs to individual vaccine shipment types.

Challenges will remain: the global airline network and flight frequency remain depleted, so charters will continue to fill the gaps. And staff shortages in many global locations could threaten fast and efficient release on arrival. Meanwhile different vaccines have different packaging and temperature requirements. Vaccine handling is also becoming more political, with any resulting changed or new regulations having the potential to impact the overall supply chain.

Nevertheless, Hong Kong is ready. We have a Task Force comprising airlines, government representatives, cargo terminal operators, ramp handlers, freight forwarders and shippers, and coordinated by Hong Kong Airport Authority. The declared aim is to release the first airline pallet on every vaccine flight within one hour maximum.

And at Hactl, we are ready, too: our dedicated, highly-qualified pharma handling team proactively updates itself with all new industry guidelines, to fine-tune procedures for the handling, storage and transport of COVID-19 vaccines: receiving input from TIACA, IATA and other reliable industry sources. It also remains fully ready to adapt to the emerging requirements of new vaccines.

Given the value of this cargo, its urgency and its sheer importance to the world’s pandemic recovery, no government wants to see its hard-won vaccine stocks rendered ineffective, and its recovery efforts undermined, by any avoidable loss of doses in transit. So we look forward to playing our part in demonstrating to the world, once again, the huge importance of our air cargo industry.