Singapore Airlines ready for ‘most important logistical challenge in history’ — Transporting Covid-19 vaccines

Aside from getting seven Boeing 747-400 freighters ready, Singapore Airlines is also making the necessary arrangements for its passenger aircraft fleet to be deployed on cargo operations. — TODAY pic
Aside from getting seven Boeing 747-400 freighters ready, Singapore Airlines is also making the necessary arrangements for its passenger aircraft fleet to be deployed on cargo operations. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, Dec 5 — In what it describes as the “most important logistical challenge in recent history”, the Singapore Airlines (SIA) said today that it has put together the nuts and bolts to ensure Covid-19 vaccines can be delivered without losing their efficacy.

Aside from getting seven Boeing 747-400 freighters ready, the carrier is also making the necessary arrangements for its passenger aircraft fleet to be deployed on cargo operations.

These changes will not only allow the airline to increase capacity for vaccine transportation, but also prioritise its shipment across the key vaccine trade lanes.

SIA’s announcement comes days after Britain approved the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for use. Britain intends to roll it out from early next week.

One of the challenges that infectious disease experts have brought up repeatedly is the preservation of vaccines in the tropical heat for countries within Southeast Asia.

For instance, experts told Reuters that the genetic material used for making Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine needs to be at temperatures of -70°C or below.

Such requirements pose a particularly daunting challenge for countries in Asia, as well as in places such as Africa and Latin America, where intense heat is often compounded by poor infrastructure that will make it difficult to keep the “cold chain” intact during deliveries to rural areas and islands.

To maintain the vaccine’s integrity during transportation, SIA said it has signed agreements with cold chain container providers such as CSafe, DoKaSch, Envirotainer, Skycell and Va-Q-Tec, to ensure that it has access to sufficient temperature-controlled containers to handle the large volumes of vaccines that need to be transported by air.

Furthermore, active tracking devices have also been certified for use on board the planes carrying the vaccines.

This is significant as it allows vaccine producers and their logistics service providers to keep an eye on shipments — particularly temperature readings — throughout the journey.

On the ground, SIA said it has a 24/7 cargo hub operations team to monitor vaccine shipments through its digital operations control tower.

The airline is also working with ground handling service provider Sats to get Changi Airport ready to handle and store large volumes of pharmaceutical shipments.

The airline was awarded with an International Air Transport Association certification in January which recognises that it has the capacity to ensure the safe transportation of pharmaceutical goods.

SIA’s senior vice-president for cargo, Chin Yau Seng, said they have been hard at work to ensure they are ready “for one of the biggest and most important supply chain challenges of our generation” — the transportation and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines around the world.

Regardless of the challenges, Chin remains confident.

“SIA has a well-established track record of safely and reliably transporting critical pharmaceutical shipments.” — TODAY

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