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Airlines Prepare For COVID-19 Vaccine Transportation Operation

by Ajay Prakash
Published: Last Update at

An unprecedented, unique and massive air cargo transportation operation is being planned. The airlines will be delivering the COVID-19 vaccine to billions of people. This exercise will ultimately lead to the normalcy of passenger traffic and the survival of many airline companies.

Cargo Capacity Shortage Is A Worry

Furthermore, due to the reduction of passenger flights, 60 per cent of the belly cargo space has shrunk. The added dedicated freighter capacity has grown by 20 per cent, which is just not enough. With the COVID vaccine distribution starting in December, the airlines need to gear up fast.

Cargo Capacity – ©IATA Oct 2020

COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Challenges

The COVID vaccine distribution is going to have its challenges and opportunities. According to a study done by McKinsey/DHL, manufacturers will ship more than ten billion vaccines across the globe in the next couple of years. For this exercise, 15,000 dedicated freighter flights are going to be required.

Challenges in air transportation of COVID-19 vaccine ©Travelradar 2020

Air Cargo Regulations

The current regulation of transporting cold containers using dry ice also may need a re-look. According to DHL, the ultra-frozen vaccine package can require up to 276kg of dry ice per pallet. Current regulations permit dry ice per flight from 1000 kg to 15000 kg, dependent on the aircraft type. Therefore, the number of pallets per flight can be as little as four pallets for the lower-rated aircraft.

How Airlines Are Gearing Up

Delta, American Airlines, Qatar and several airlines in Europe are in talks with their government for chalking our freighter routes and schedules for COVID19 vaccine. Indian and China are the largest manufacturers of the COVID19 vaccine. India based airlines are working out new distribution routes and schedules. Additionally, SpiceJet signed partnerships with Snowman Logistics and Om Logistics for worldwide distribution, last week. Finally, India’s government has designated Hyderabad and Mumbai airports as the base for the storage of vaccines in cold and safe zones.

Dr Kate O’Brien, Director of WHO’s Department of Immunization, says –

Developing COVID-19 vaccines in record time was relatively easy, but when it comes to transporting and distributing those vaccines, there is going to be a struggle, frankly, in every country, about how to do this quickly.”

What are your thoughts on this unprecedented and massive air transportation and logistics program? Do write to us in the comments section below.


Rakesh Sharma December 14, 2020 - 8:06 am

In my opinion to tide over the crisis situation & constraints, additional services of military cargo aircrafts & cargo ships can also be utilized for transportation. As soon as the vaccine is available, airline companies would focus on operating their commercial flights at full capacity passenger load to make their operations viable.

Ajay Prakash December 14, 2020 - 8:26 am

Thank you for your comments. Yes, Sir, that is one aspect that the Governments have not yet announced. I have seen a hub & spoke model for delivery being proposed between the manufacturing countries and the consuming countries. I am sure that from the ‘Hub’ to the interiors many transportation modes will be used. Let us wait for further announcements.


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