Singapore gears up for vaccine transport

Changi Airport and Singapore Airlines prep their services to receive vaccines and transport throughout the Asia-Pacific region

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Singapore Airlines Cargo
(PHOTO: Singapore Airlines Cargo)

Use this oneThe city-state of Singapore, its award-winning Changi Airport and flag carrier Singapore airlines are gearing up and preparing to be able to handle COVID-19 vaccines once they arrive and to transport them throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

The so-called “Changi Ready Taskforce”, co-led by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and Changi Airport Group (CAG), jointly announced Tuesday (8December) that the Singapore air cargo hub “is ready for the transportation and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines”. Made up of 18 members from across the Changi air cargo community, the taskforce is a public-private collaboration involving government agencies, cargo handlers, airlines and freight forwarders.

Ho Yuen Sang, Director (Aviation Industry), Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, and co-lead of the Changi Ready Taskforce said, “over the years, Changi Airport has built a strong track record in pharmaceutical handling by air, from serving Singapore’s pharmaceutical manufacturing sector. We have good cold chain handling infrastructure and capabilities. With our strong air connectivity and SIA’s fleet of more than 200 passenger aircraft, we can deliver vaccines to multiple destinations according to demand. We are well-positioned to play a critical role in distributing COVID-19 vaccines to Singapore and the region. By bringing all players in the air cargo supply chain together through the Changi Ready Taskforce, CAAS and our partners can ensure the safe, reliable and effective transportation of these vaccines.”

A SATS worker in Singapore preparing a shipment. The company is preparing to ship COV ID-19 vaccines when they’re ready. (PHOTO: SATS)

Changi Airport is a preferred pharmaceutical air cargo hub in the region. As the first and largest IATA CEIV Pharma-certified community in the Asia-Pacific region, with at least one member in each node of the air cargo supply chain, the Changi air cargo hub offers an unbroken cold chain necessary for the effective handling of temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical shipments.

The Changi Ready Taskforce was been set up to prepare the air cargo community to meet the logistical demands of vaccine distribution. This includes assessing and ramping up the hub’s ability to handle different types of COVID-19 vaccines, all within stringent temperature-controlled environment to maintain the vaccines’ efficacy, as well as to manage an expected surge in the volume of vaccines to be air transported to the region, once they are approved by regulators.

Some airlines are already testing passengers for COVID-19 before they even check in for their flights. (PHOTO: Emirates)

Since October this year, the Changi Ready Taskforce has sought to identify and address the potential challenges associated with air transportation of COVID-19 vaccines – through workstreams such as capabilities mapping of infrastructure and equipment, data visibility, and processes – to ensure that the COVID-19 vaccines can be safely, reliably and efficiently handled through the Changi air cargo hub for distribution into Singapore and to the region.

Changi Airport Group’s Managing Director for Air Hub Development and co-lead of the Changi Ready Taskforce, Lim Ching Kiat said, “the Changi air cargo hub has always placed a strong emphasis on pursuing the highest standards in pharmaceutical cargo handling. Given our efforts in infrastructure upgrades and manpower training over the years, our air cargo hub is well-poised to handle the transportation of COVID-19 vaccines”.

Other airlines like Korean Air are also working to ramp up their cargo preparations for COVID-19 vaccines. (PHOTO: Korean Air)

Changi Airport’s cargo handlers, dnata and SATS, have steadily been enhancing their cool chain infrastructure and equipment over the years to support the growing demands for transporting temperature-controlled cargo. dnata’s CoolChain and SATS’ Coolport, which consist of temperature-controlled warehouses with adjustable temperature ranges between -25°C and +25°C, together cover more than 9,000 sqm. They offer a combined annual cool chain handling capacity of 375,000 tonnes with the ability to scale up when required.

Both dnata and SATS have also recently introduced cool dollies – temperature-controlled containers designed specifically for temperature-sensitive goods to be transported with the highest level of cool chain integrity and visibility on the tarmac, between the aircraft and their temperature-controlled warehouses. Further strengthening the airport’s end-to-end cool chain integrity, both handlers are also equipped with multiple temperature-controlled truck docks[3] and round-the-clock shipment monitoring. In addition, both handlers’ facilities are equipped with essential surveillance systems to ensure the security of the cargo.

Changi Airport’s cargo handlers, dnata and SATS, have steadily been enhancing their cool chain infrastructure and equipment over the years to support the growing demands for transporting temperature-controlled cargo. (PHOTO: dnata)

Handling vaccines that must be stored in a frozen or deep-frozen state may require dry ice. Changi’s cargo handlers have ready access to dry ice to cater to such shipments along with trained personnel to handle them.

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has decimated air travel demand, resulting in a steep decline in passenger aircraft movements with a corresponding reduction in belly-hold capacity, Changi’s airline partners have been quick to ramp up charters and scheduled freighter operations since the onset of the pandemic. CAG has also worked with its partners to facilitate the introduction and growth of passenger services for cargo conveyance to alleviate the air cargo capacity crunch. As of 1 December 2020, weekly cargo flights[5] at Changi Airport have tripled to more than 950 flights compared to end-2019. Changi Airport is now connected to about 80 cities by weekly cargo flights.

Changi Airport is well-positioned to serve as a regional hub in Southeast Asia and Southwest Pacific, to support the efficient distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Singapore Airlines operates multiple weekly flights from each of the key European pharmaceutical export hubs, such as Amsterdam, Brussels and Frankfurt, and has an extensive network in Southeast Asia and Southwest Pacific. In addition, leading global integrators – such as DHL, FedEX and UPS – have established their regional hubs in Singapore with strong network connectivity from Changi Airport.

Both Changi Airport Group and SATS are also part of the global task force Project Sunrays – a joint initiative between The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) and Pharma.Aero. This project aims to create transparency between pharma shippers and the global air cargo industry and establish useful guidelines for the air cargo industry to ensure the proper handling, storage, and transportation of high volume COVID-19 vaccines.

Meanwhile, Singapore Airlines (SIA) said it has also made preparations across the supply chain and in pharmaceutical export markets to ensure that it is able to transport the vaccines with speed and reliability. An internal COVID-19 task force was set up in May 2020 to ensure readiness across all aspects of cargo operations, and manage the crucial task of safely carrying these time- and temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical shipments.

For the financial year ended March 2020, SIA Cargo carried about 22,000 tonnes of pharmaceutical shipments across its network. In order to strengthen its pharmaceutical transport product, SIA has been actively expanding its THRUCOOL quality corridor network, with the latest additions to the network being Brisbane and Melbourne in September this year. THRUCOOL provides the assurance of safe and reliable transportation of time-sensitive and temperature-controlled pharmaceutical cargo on key pharmaceutical trade lanes.

SIA will make available cargo space on its flights and accord uplift priority to Covid-19 vaccine shipments across the key vaccine trade lanes. This means readying the Boeing 747-400 freighters, as well as the passenger aircraft fleet which will be deployed on cargo operations to increase the capacity for vaccine transportation where needed.

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