American Airlines Simulates Vaccine Distribution Flights With Boeing 777

American Airlines has begun to simulate distributing a COVID-19 vaccine. The trial took place earlier in November using Boeing 777-200 aircraft based in Miami. It saw all the relevant protocols being followed ahead of a COVID-19 vaccine being approved.

American Airlines, Vaccine Transport, Boeing 777
American Airlines has been simulating COVID-19 vaccine transport with Boeing 777s. Photo: Vincenzo Pace |

Around the world, companies are working to certify COVID-19 vaccines. The hope is that such vaccines will grant immunity, bringing an end to the pandemic. However, once a vaccine is produced, it will need help getting around the world. This is where airlines come in, with the ability to quickly distribute such items while maintaining the cold chain, so they don’t spoil.

Miami Boeing 777-200 trials

American Airlines passengers from Miami to South America earlier this month would’ve been blissfully unaware that their aircraft were also being used to prepare to ship the COVID-19 vaccine.

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In an aviation context, the word simulate often makes people think of flight simulators. However, American Airlines’ practice flights were very different. Vaccines need to be kept in consistently cold temperatures throughout the shipping process. This is one reason that Frankfurt Airport has special ground transport for such shipments.

American Airlines, Vaccine Transport, Boeing 777
The airline has already been using Boeing 777s to carry cargo such as PPE. Photo: Getty Images

At American Airlines, a special team of staff work solely to ensure that such temperature-sensitive shipments go without a hitch. Ahead of such a critical load, the team needed to get prepared. After all, if something goes wrong, it is better to deal with it when the vaccine itself isn’t at stake.

As such, the airline was working in tandem with its cargo and pharmaceutical partners to stress test the packaging that vaccines will be shipped in and the handling process at airports.

Commenting, American Airlines Cargo President Jessica Tyler said,

“The American Airlines team is working collaboratively with cargo, pharmaceutical and federal partners so we are ready to safely and quickly transport an approved vaccine. Despite the significant challenges the airline industry is facing, we’re working night and day to put our greatest strengths to use during this time of need.”

Frankfurt Airport, COVID-19, Vaccine
The whole aviation industry is preparing to carry the vaccine. Photo: Fraport

How is a vaccine transported?

There are two methods to keep a vaccine shipment cold during transport. The first is in an active container. This will be a refrigerated container to ensure that it is continuously maintained at the optimum temperature.

However, there are also passive containers. These are kept cool with cold packs or dry ice that remains in the box throughout transport from A to B. As the FAA and other class dry ice as a dangerous good, its volume on aircraft is limited as a safety precaution. As such, many airlines such as Emirates are making preparations to move the vaccine.

What do you make of American Airlines’ vaccine preparations? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!