Singapore Airlines Joins The Flight To Transport The COVID Vaccine

Singapore Airlines has officially joined the list of airlines transporting the COVID-19 vaccine. The airline transported its first shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines from Brussels to Singapore yesterday. The vaccines flew on a Singapore Airlines Cargo 747-400 and required end-to-end cold-chain logistics.

The first shipment of vaccines arrived in Singapore from Brussels yesterday night. Photo: Singapore Ministry of Communications and Information

Valuable cargo

With two COVID-19 vaccines now receiving approvals in the US and other countries, airlines have begun flying the precious cargo. Singapore Airlines became one of the first long-haul carriers of the vaccines yesterday, flying the first shipment from Brussels, Belgium to Singapore Changi airport.

The vaccines were flown on a Boeing 747-400 freighter operated by Singapore Airlines Cargo with the flight number SQ7979. The flight departed from Brussels on 20th December at 21:24 PM local time and made its way for a stop in Sharjah, UAE. Following a one-hour stop, the aircraft left Sharjah at 08:30 AM and arrived in Singapore at 19:55 PM local time on the 21st of December.

The flight made a brief stop in the UAE before flying to Singapore. Data and Flight Map:

Singapore Airlines operated a practice flight of the same route the day before to prepare for this mission. In a statement seen by Simple Flying, Mr. Chin Yau Seng, Senior Vice President Cargo said,

“The delivery of this first batch of Covid-19 vaccines to Singapore is an important milestone in the fight against Covid-19, and we are honoured to be able to play a part in this. It also served to demonstrate SIA’s and the Singapore air hub’s readiness for the very important job of transporting and distributing Covid-19 vaccines internationally.”

This flight is likely the first of many as Singapore prepares for a mass vaccination campaign in the coming months. Singapore is the first Asian country to approve and receive doses of the vaccine, making it a strong candidate for a vaccine transport hub in the future.

No easy feat

Transporting the vaccine is a complex task that requires crucial logistics to be successful. Since the Pfizer vaccine must be transported at extremely cold temperatures, it requires a cold-chain all the way from the factory to the hospital. The vaccine cargo received priority loading and unloading in Brussels and Singapore, where it was later moved to a cold-chain facility at the airport (called Coolport).

Within the aircraft, the vaccine is transported in thermal shippers or “cool boxes”. These temperature-controlled units keep the vaccine frozen during the long-haul flight and on the ground. These boxes contain dry ice, which takes lesser space but can maintain the required -70°C mark.

The vaccine is stored inside thermal shippers during its journey in the cargo hold. Photo: Singapore Ministry of Communications and Information

Once the vaccine arrives at its destination, it’s promptly placed in a freezer unit to maintain the cool-chain. From there, trucks take the vaccine to the distribution point, where they are removed from cold storage to be used for vaccinations.

The coming months will see dozens of more airlines undertake this important mission for their countries. Not only is the aviation industry key to vaccine distribution, but will also be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the vaccine in the future.

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