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Why Finnair Cargo is in prime position to help deliver a Covid–19 vaccine

IATA is right to claim that ‘Safely delivering COVID-19 vaccines will be the mission of the century for the global air cargo industry’. And Finnair Cargo is perfectly placed to help transport millions of vaccine doses as soon as they’re available, helping to bring as swift an end as possible to the coronavirus crisis.

Finnair Cargo Loading

“We have a long heritage of pharma excellence as we were the first airline, in 2015, to receive an international CEIV certificate for our operations from IATA,” says Fredrik Wildtgrube, Head of Global Sale at Finnair Cargo, who will soon start heading Finnair Cargo as VP, Finnair Cargo. 

“Speed of delivery is a critical requirement for the vaccine and with our hub located in northern Europe, we fly the shortest route to all the major cities in Asia. Nobody knows where the first vaccines for Covid will originate from, but we have a network in place to guarantee speedy deliveries across the Northern Hemisphere.”

The importance of air cargo

“Air cargo has many benefits compared with other means of transportation,” says Wildtgrube. “Firstly, air cargo is the fastest form of transportation, which is one of the main requirements for the vaccine. Secondly, it’s the safest form of transportation around the world - air cargo terminals have the same security levels as airports. As the discussion heats up around vaccines, it is important to ensure a high level of security and reduce risk of theft or possible damage to the product. Transporting by air is a highly reliable form of transportation – departures and arrival are punctual and there is always full information on the cargo’s whereabouts.”

At the heart of Finnair Cargo’s operation is the cutting edge Cool terminal at Helsinki–Vantaa Airport. Europe’s most modern air cargo terminal, opened in 2018, it earned a CEIV GH certificate in 2019 and has become a vital cog in Finnair Cargo’s ability to transport pharmaceuticals safely and securely.

Finnair Cargo Terminal Exterior

“Terminal process is extremely important for safe transportation of the vaccine,” explains Tommi Voss, Head of Cargo Operations. “. What we have in our terminal is a total space of 31,000m2 including a dedicated pharma area with advanced control systems to monitor and notify any deviations of temperature. Vaccines will be delivered through a dedicated acceptance area, where it is possible to verify incoming temperatures. We have aircraft parking places right outside our terminal, so our tarmac time can be less than 30 minutes, which is one of the shortest in the world. This process is developed to protect the vaccine and keep temperature as stable as possible. Pharma gets the business class service in our terminal.”

The Cool terminal could not be better placed to help with vaccine delivery. Within its vast space there is 2600 m² of controlled room temperature space, 208 m² of refrigerated storage and 50 m² of freezer space. Temperatures are checked and controlled 24/7, with pharma entering the terminal through a dedicated acceptance area.

What’s more, staff at the Cool terminal have undertaken rigorous training. All personnel that handle sensitive pharma shipments in temperature–controlled areas are capable of taking care of vital supplies, including vaccines.

Finnair Cargo Terminal Interior

A key location

But it isn’t just the terminal and its staff that can help facilitate safe delivery of a coronavirus vaccine. Cool’s location between Europe and Asia could also prove vital in ensuring medication reaches its destination promptly.

“Normally our network connects Europe directly with 19 destination is Asia, and globally we have 19 pharma certified lanes in our whole network between Europe, Asia and the US,” says Fredrik Wildtgrube. “We are committed to being a part of a logistics solution for vaccine distribution and making use of the excellence we have in terms of facilities, location and knowhow for as many areas in our network as possible.”

Putting plans in place

As yet, it’s not clear how many vaccines can fit into particular aircraft. But that doesn’t mean Finnair Cargo isn’t already drawing up its logistics plans for when one is available.

“One A350 aircraft can carry up to 2 million doses of Measles vaccines or 15 million Rotavirus vaccines,” says Tommi Voss. “It is worth remembering that as vaccines tend to contain live bacteria, their ‘shelf life’ is not likely to be more than a few days. This means that when planning the logistics chain with health organizations, there needs to be processes in place to evaluate the number of vaccines possible to distribute in the location and manage the delivery of vaccines accordingly. So it might be that the challenge is not how many vaccines can fit into one plane, but how to ensure a systematic, reliable delivery chain over a long period of time.”

Finnair Cargo’s record means that it’s well placed to deliver such a system. And when the first vaccines become available, the staff at its Cool terminal will be ready to get to work straight away.


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