By Kathryn B. Creedy
Congressional Air Cargo Caucus listened as the world’s top cargo carriers echoed IATA’s recent call urging governments to begin coordination now on Covid-19 vaccine distribution.
What IATA termed the “mission of the century,” is already being heeded by cargo carriers with both FedEx and UPS gearing up logistics support for pandemic-related PPEs and investment in dedicated facilities designed for the health care community.
The event was organized by Air Cargo Caucus Co-Chairs Representatives Paul Mitchell (MI) and Cheri Bustos (IL). Members heard from executives at Atlas Worldwide, UPS, FedEx, DHL, ABX Air. Also speaking were Representatives Garret Graves (LA) and Sharice Davids (KS). The session was organized with the Cargo Carriers Association (CAA) which invited The Regional Air Cargo Carriers (RACCA) to listen in.
Bustos noted chicago Rockford International Airport, in her district, was the fastest growing cargo airport in the world in 2018 and growth has remained high in 2019 and 2020. “This is a true economic driver for a region like mine where a family of four makes $48,000 a year,” she said, echoing her Congressional colleagues on the importance of the cargo industry. “We need these jobs.”
Cargo Operators Urge Action in Planning for Vaccine Distribution
“Distribution is the question of the moment,” Roger Libby, EVP Corporate Public Policy, DHL Americas, told the caucus. “We are looking at the distribution of 10 billion doses globally. There are specific requirements for distribution including storage temperature requirements to ensure the efficacy of the vaccine. This is all part of what DHL is working on.”
He explained the immense task, predicting 200,000 pallets across 15,000 flights. It will not only be a global effort, but the industry must look at inbound logistics and domestic distribution.
“The development of an emergency response plan for this is critical,” he said, calling for public-private partnerships to resolve warehousing issues and IT infrastructure to measure inventory and predict demand. “The government must partner with pharmaceuticals, cargo and logistics to ensure distribution.”
All the executives urged crews get the vaccine early.
Bobbi Wells, VP-Safety and Airworthiness, FedEx, said policy makers should be thinking now about air cargo distribution pointing to the unprecedented collaboration within the industry, sharing ideas and best practices and developing better ways to meet PPE distribution requirements.
“I see a need for regulatory authorities to have the same sort of transparency and collaboration,” she told lawmakers, noting governments around the world see cargo as critical infrastructure. “We need consistent definitions and regulations to describe essential workers, simplify customs clearance and the adoption of performance-based regulatory infrastructure that makes us safe but meets our needs. The response to the crisis is limited by regulations and we need to develop contingencies ensuring we address risk while enabling distribution. Such collaboration will only make us stronger and more resilient in the future.”
Bob Boja, Director-Operations, ABXAir, agreed. “What challenged us the most was the changing and inconsistent regulations around the world that our pilots had to endure,” he said. “Rules were changing daily. The G7 worked to coordinate a statement of principles on the treatment and protection of air crews especially in China. Expanding those principles more broadly is critical. We also need better testing methods. We applaud FAA for its flexibility on training, checking and medical regulations and encourage that to continue.”
Libby indicated flexibility has been paramount throughout the pandemic especially given the drop in capacity with the grounding of passenger aircraft belly capacity. He, too, pointed to other challenges such as the differing flight restrictions, pilot restrictions, changing rules and customer procedures.
“If governments take a prescriptive approach, it could hamper the ability to gain maximum flexibility that allows us to do our jobs,” he said.
Jim Forbes, EVP and COO, Atlas Air Worldwide, noted the role of the Congressional Air Cargo Caucus in resolving many government-to-government restrictions on serving different destinations, including lifting the cap on cargo charter flights to China and the open skies agreements that provide flexibility for overflight and landing rights.
Wells indicated FedEx flexed its networks to meet the evolving demand and that needs to happen again in vaccine distribution. The company flew 530 extra flights out of China, replacing belly cargo capacity, over and above its basic schedule.
Huston Mills, VP-Flight Operations & Safety, UPS, also called for the risk-based approach guided by collaboration with CDC and others. “We don’t want to be hindered by overly prescriptive rules,” he said. “The one-size-fits-all concept won’t cut it. We need to ensure the testing protocols, especially for pilots, is not overly invasive and we need to harmonize that worldwide to keep us moving.”
Air Cargo – Transportation Lifeline
“One thing is evident,” said Libby. “Small business is more vulnerable because they don’t have access to capital or redundant supply chains or the footprints to cope with what we have experienced. They don’t have the flexibility to engage in e-commerce strategies and pivot their operations. Small businesses are relying on air cargo to access global markets and make their businesses more resilient. They have seen how important air cargo is to health and safety, and now, for economic recovery.”
Mills reported UPS is already building on the pandemic response in place since the outset of the outbreak. “It’s going to be the cargo express industry that will be responsible for distribution both domestically and worldwide.”
He described facility requirements in recounting the company’s efforts. A recent press release outlined facility enhancements, saying the company has committed to building additional cooler space (2-8 degrees Celsius), and freezer space (minus-20 degrees to minus-80 degrees Celsius) in its new GMP facility in Louisville. UPS Healthcare is also expanding its GDP facility space in Hungary, and GMP space in the United Kingdom through its Polar Speed subsidiary where it operates a dispensing pharmacy that serves more than 20,000 patients daily. The new GMP warehouse and transportation hub will be located in the Midlands, UK, to further facilitate its clients’ growth needs.
“The ability of our crews, maintenance professionals and dispatchers to respond to the demand, meant we could provide assistance and the delivery of goods,” concluded Wells. “That is going to continue to be important as we now pivot to vaccine distribution and the economic recovery around the world.”
The meeting was recorded for access here (Passcode: .1.Xn7yw)