Cargo Flight Capabilities Tested To Prepare For COVID-19 Vaccine

This week, AirBridgeCargo (ABC) Airlines, part of Volga-Dnepr Group, has been testing its aircraft capacity in preparation for transporting a COVID-19 vaccine. The cargo airline recently transported 41 temperature-sensitive containers in a Boeing 747-8F. The containers are specifically designed to carry medicines. The carrier has said it is also in contact with container suppliers should it need to transport large amounts of a vaccine around the world.

COVID-19 Vaccine cargo
AirBridgeCargo has been practicing transporting temperature-controlled medicines to be ready for a COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: Getty Images

Russia’s largest cargo airline has been preparing itself to carry vast amounts of a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as one is made available.  A representative for the airline confirmed that a recent flight carrying 41 RKN CSafe containers filled with over 30 tons of medicine was a test. In a statement, Yulia Celetaria, Global Director, pharma for AirBridgeCargo, said,

This transportation, to some extent, is the rehearsal to check that we are well-prepared for the COVID-19 vaccine, once its testing is finalized.”

The Boeing 747-8F picked up cargo in Amsterdam and delivered it to China. Rather than split the shipment into more than one flight, ABC chose to load all the containers onto the main and low decks to maximize capacity and test the safe delivery of the shipment.

Transporting vaccines

The crucial element of the test was the temperature-controlled containers. Cargo airlines have been vital for the shipping of masks, gloves, ventilators, and other protective gear in the past few months. However, ABC secured its IATA CEIV Pharma recertification last year. This allows it to transport temperature-sensitive medicines where other cargo airlines cannot.

Liege Airport
AirBridgeCargo is one of a few airlines certified to carry the individual temperature-controlled containers used to transport medicines. Photo: Liege Airport

The airline has already seen an enormous upswing in the amount of temperature-sensitive medicines it has had to carry. The first six months of this year saw a 60% increase. This is likely to rise again by a significant amount if a vaccine is developed soon. So far this year, the airline has carried over 11,000 tons of medicines.

According to the IATA, in a standard year, medicines and scientific products account for “1.9% of air cargo volume and contribute 2.6% of total airline cargo revenues, equivalent to $2.5 billion.”

With fewer flights and an increase in demand for medical supplies, passenger planes from over 100 carriers have already been converted into cargo planes. While passenger planes can carry non-sensitive equipment, they cannot carry temperature-controlled containers.

Airlines with the correct certifications and equipment, such as ABC, will be responsible for distributing the vaccine once it is available.

COVID-19 Vaccine
There are already five billion pre-orders for a COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: Getty Images

A COVID-19 vaccine

There are currently 80 vaccine programs underway around the globe. Just five of these 80 are in phase three testing: Three created in the western world, and two Chinese vaccines.  Earlier this week, global pre-orders of a vaccine against COVID-19 exceeded five billion.

Earlier this week, Russia announced it had created a vaccine that may offer immunity. This could have been the trigger for ABC to start preparing its fleet for mass distribution. According to Russia, it can produce 500 million doses per year. With five billion orders to fill, now might be a good time to set up a cargo-only, temperature-controlled airline. It’s going to be a busy few years for cargo airlines.