Q&A series: Are Asia Pacific’s airports and ground handlers ready for a vaccine?

In this Q&A series, we talked to airports and ground handlers to see how they are preparing for a vaccine, and first up is Changi Airport.


air hub development Changi Airport global vaccine distribution pharma logistics


There are a total of 12 companies at Changi Airport who are CEIV certified, including UPS SCS (Singapore) pictured above. (Credit: Changi Airport)

The race towards a vaccine is heating up. Several trials have already reached the third phase and some nations have already approved vaccines without waiting for the Phase 3 results. 

According to the New York Times, there are 49 vaccines in clinical trials on humans and at least 88 preclinical vaccines under active investigation in animals. 

The global air cargo supply chain is scrambling to prepare for the massive logistics this would entail, with IATA earlier estimating 8,000 747 freighters to carry just a single dose to the 7.8 billion world population. Some have even described it as “the biggest product launch ever. 

Carriers like Korean Air Cargo, Etihad and United Cargo are leading the way in forming task forces and investing on infrastructure to prepare for vaccine handling and delivery. 

But this is just one side of the equation. The big unknown is the information coming from the pharma companies and shippers themselves, which would only come once a vaccine has been approved. 

This leaves the industry clueless as to the packaging, storage specifications, volume and the locations where these vaccines will be produced. 

As to the set of standards needed to ensure product integrity during handling and transport, IATA and the Cool Chain Association recently signed an MoU to develop common work programmes, including temporary task forces and round tables, for this specific initiative. 

A recent survey by TIACA and Pharma.Aero under Project Sunrays showed that only 28 percent out of the 181 airlines, freight forwarders, ground handlers and airport operators polled are ready for Covid-19 vaccine distribution, with airports and ground handlers feeling less prepared compared to their airline and logistics counterparts. 

Payload Asia reached out to airports and ground handlers in Asia Pacific to see what they had to say in terms of readiness and preparedness in the complicated handling, storing and air transport of pharmaceuticals. 

In part 1 of this Q&A series, we talked to Changi Airportone of the founding members of Pharma.Aero, as its managing director of air hub development, Mr Lim Ching Kiat, shares the latest developments and initiatives on this matter.

Mr Lim Ching Kiat, Managing Director of Air Hub Development, Changi Airport Group

 How is the organisation preparing for the much-complicated vaccine logistics? Were there recent investments in training and infrastructure in preparation for the distribution? 

Over the last few years, Changi Airport Group, together with the Singapore air cargo community, has invested in enhancing pharmaceutical handling standards and capabilities. Changi Airport has since established the first and the largest CEIV Pharma certified community. 

Earlier this year, UPS SCS (Singapore) and DSV Air & Sea Singapore have successfully attained their CEIV Pharma certification while the pioneer batch of CEIV Pharma Community has successfully completed their re-certification. This brings a total of 12 companies at Changi Airport who are CEIV certified. Formed by all CEIV Pharma certified members, the [email protected] initiative advocates the sharing of best practices for transport, storage and handling of pharmaceutical air cargo, as well as assessing new and emerging pharmaceutical logistics trends and technologies.  

On a global level, Changi Airport Group has been establishing thought leadership on air transportation of pharmaceutical cargo and collaborating with other airport communities through our active participation in Pharma.Aero. As a strategic member of the organisation, Changi Airport Group has co-led a number of projects with the aim of promoting reliable air transportation of pharma shipments including the recent joint initiative between TIACA and Pharma.Aero – Project Sunrays.  

More recently, Changi’s air pharma hub has been enhanced with dnata’s introduction of cool dolly services. Providing temperature-controlled storage from -18°C up to +25°C, the cool dollies mitigate risk of temperature deviations and contamination. The cool dollies are also equipped by IOT capabilities, providing users with real-time information on their products.  

What resources or information do you think would help airports and cargo handlers better prepare?   

Based on the recent Project Sunrays airfreight readiness survey, ground handlers and airports feel the least informed and prepared as compared to other stakeholders in the air cargo industry. To ensure effective global distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, collaboration and communication among the entire air cargo supply chain, including ground handlers and airports, has become more vital than ever.  

Today, there are still many uncertainties and unknowns on the front of vaccine development. Transparency on transport requirements of the array of vaccine candidates, storage and packaging requirements, production network and schedule, type of containers (e.g. active vs passive) etc. would be critical for the community to make the necessary preparations and scaling up necessary infrastructure to support the effective distribution of the vaccines. 

To the extent you can divulge, are you in close talks with pharma manufacturers, logistics providers and the Government in relation to vaccine distribution? What are the recent developments you can share?  

As part of Project Sunrays, we maintain regular engagement with vaccines producers and the global air cargo industry to get up-to-date information. We will be delivering topical insights to the industry through white papers, webinars and presentations. This information would be made available through both Pharma.Aero and TIACA’s websites.  

At the local level, our air cargo community and the relevant government agencies are coming together to address potential challenges for facilitating vaccine flows in Singapore and ensuring the effective distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines through Changi Airport in Singapore and to the region. 



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