Part 2: Are airports and ground handlers in APAC ready for a vaccine?

PLA talks to SATS to discuss its capabilities in handling pharma and the facilities in place to deliver across key cities in Asia.


Changi Airport cold storage global vaccine distribution SATS Singapore


Coolport, SATS’ 8,000-square-metre perishable handling centre, has 18 cold rooms with four main temperature zones. (Photo credit: Rendy Aryanto)

Are airports and ground handlers in APAC ready for a vaccine? That was the question we tried to answer when we published part 1 of this Q&A series with Changi Airport.

The airport says it has 12 companies that are CEIV certified, with UPS SCS (Singapore) and DSV Air & Sea Singapore joining the others to form [email protected].

dnata meanwhile introduced cool dolly services at the air cargo hub to provide cold storage capabilities. This would mitigate the risk of temperature excursion and maintain product integrity, particularly for sensitive cargo like a vaccine.

Also read: WFS’ Project Coldstream prepares for global air transport of vaccine

The spectrum of transporting a vaccine worldwide still has a lot of unknowns from the side of pharma producers and shippers. Packaging and handling requirements, as well as the manufacturing locations are just some of the information that would add more clarity for the global air cargo supply chain.

As part of the joint initiative Project Sunrays, Changi joins TIACA and Pharma.Aero members in regular engagement with vaccine producers and the global air cargo industry to get more up-to-date information.

In part 2 of the Q&A series, we talk to Changi’s partner ground handler SATS to learn about its capabilities in handling pharma cargo as well as the facilities in place to deliver the vaccine across key cities in Asia.

PLA: A recent survey by TIACA and Pharma-Aero revealed that only 28 percent in the air cargo industry are ready for Covid-19 vaccine distribution, with airports and ground handlers feeling less prepared compared to their airline and logistics counterparts.

Does this also ring true for Changi Airport? How is the organisation preparing for the much-complicated vaccine logistics? Were there recent investments in training and infrastructure in preparation for the distribution?

This is not true for either Changi Airport or SATS, the main ground handler at Changi. Changi Airport Group formed the [email protected] Taskforce Committee in 2017 with key stakeholders from the cargo supply chain to work towards the continuous strengthening of Changi’s capabilities to handle pharmaceutical air cargo. Capacity and capability cannot be acquired overnight to cater to the high standards of cargo handling required of the vaccine. SATS has operated Coolport at Changi Airport since 2010 and has a head start in pharma handling. We have built trusted relationships with pharma manufacturers, airlines, freight forwarders and government authorities over the years that have helped us to stay ahead of the curve.

SATS Coolport is Asia’s first on-airport perishable handling centre, dedicated to the cold chain handling of perishable and pharmaceutical airfreight for import, export, and transhipment. Its direct airside access also allows cargo shipments to be handled entirely within a secure cold chain, from the facility to the aircraft and vice versa.

Occupying an area of 8,000 square metres, we have 18 cold rooms with four main temperature zones from -28 ºC to 0 ºC, 2 ºC to 0 ºC, 8 ºC to 15 ºC, to 15 ºC to 25 ºC to handle 250,000 tonnes of cargo annually. Capacity is further enhanced with multi-level unit load device storage for up to 250 pallet positions and more than 2,000 square metres of column-free warehouse space. 12 land-side temperature-controlled truck docks and a full-service Perishable Handling Centre (PHC) situated in front of the freighter bays at the Airport ensure product integrity during cargo handling.

SATS obtained the Good Distribution Practice for Medical Devices (GDPMDS) certification and Halal certification in 2010, and was the first Halal-certified hub in Asia Pacific. In 2012, we obtained the Good Distribution Practice (GDP) certification and was the first facility in the world to be awarded IATA’s Centre of Excellence for Independent Validators in Pharmaceutical Handling in November 2014. We added another feather to the cap when we were named as IATA’s Regional Training Partner (RTP) for pharmaceutical handling in April 2015. In the same year, we also received Envirotainer’s Ground Services Award certification. To keep abreast of new developments in the pharma market, we are constantly sending our staff for training conducted by pharma companies.

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

It is critical for airports and cargo handlers to know the packing, storage and handling requirements in order to be better prepared to handle the vaccine. The packing requirements will give an indication of the space required to store the vaccine, while storage and handling requirements will determine if additional investments in new capabilities are required to handle the vaccine.

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?

We are unable to share much beyond the fact that we are working actively as a community – Changi Airport, Singapore Aircargo Agents Association, airlines and pharma companies – to leverage SATS Coolport’s large capacity, unique capabilities and advantageous location to prepare ourselves for distributing the vaccine. Within the network of airports that SATS has presence in, we have a similar Coolport facility set up in Bangalore in India (a biotech hub) and our staff in our joint venture company in China, Beijing Ground Services, are CEIV-certified. Thanks to the above, we are ready to handle the distribution of the vaccine across key cities in Asia.

Read Part 1 here in case you missed it.



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