Pharmaceuticals = Novel Coronavirus Vaccine by Air Transport
Delivering Promising Life and Better Future
Pharmaceuticals = Novel Coronavirus Vaccine by Air Transport
Delivering Promising Life and Better Future
Upon commencement of Novel Coronavirus vaccine transport,
what are the air transportation’s role and social contributions to be made?
In the 2020 spring, due to the outbreak of Novel Coronavirus, our daily life which was usual until now has drastically changed. Under various countermeasures taken, pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer Inc., have been developing vaccines , which its full-scale supply started in 2021.
ANA and DHL Global Forwarding Japan jointly commenced international transportation of Pfizer’s Novel Coronavirus vaccines from Belgium to Japan.
Pfizer Inc. announced that temperature control is most important for vaccine transport, which the frozen vaccines shall be delivered within the specified certain period, stored under extremely low-temperature using dry ice.
While the situation is changing and many unprecedented things occurring every day, ANA group is required of prompt, reliable and safe air transportation from Belgium, nearby the production base in Europe, to Japan.
Though people’s mobility is restricted, logistics is not allowed to be stopped in order to maintain the livings and economy. So as to take a step forward to a better future from the completely changed daily life, the members of ANA Cargo project team, established for vaccine transportation, have challenged tough tasks never faced before.
Failure is unacceptable.
Establishment of project team for unprecedented vaccine transportation
In 2020, the opportunity to hear the news of vaccine development has increased in accordance with the situation of Novel Coronavirus infection. Kazuya Imaoka and other members of ANA Cargo Global Marketing – Products & Services started to establish a special project for realization of vaccine transport.
“When discussions on vaccine supply started, we also wanted to fulfill the social significance by realizing reliable and prompt transportation. Originally, ANA group, as the first Japanese carrier acquiring CEIV Pharma, an international quality certification of pharmaceuticals transport, already provides temperature control containers available of -25 ~ +25°C range for general pharma products and have handling manuals. At the beginning, due to the current share of human usage vaccines, such as for influenza, is low as approximately 1% out of entire pharma’s air transport, and in general, the required temperature range for storage being 2 ~ 8°C, we considered it was not at all difficult by also applying the existing solution this time.”
However, in regard to vaccine transport, there was totally no information from anywhere………. How much volume will be produced, and when will it be shipped? Which stakeholders and countries are to be involved? What is required for the transport and which route is necessary? Under such uncertain situations, what are the requirements for the airlines? …… were the questions.
“At the beginning, we had no idea what to start off with nor what to tackle on. Anyhow, as the main player, ANA Cargo had to clarify ANA group’s role. For this, inquiries were made to the concerned external parties, to proactively obtain whatever clue. What we could figure out was that the volume of transport and supply, together with dry ice to be loaded, was way beyond our expectation, having to revise the current guidelines to enable the handling, including the cooperation between the points of departure and arrival, Belgium and Japan.”
Since airline business is based on close cooperation among quite a few departments, things are not easy to proceed by each team alone. Though, to lead this project to success, many staff voluntarily dealt with the tasks.
“As a matter of fact, until now, there were such cases which the entire ANA group’s cooperation was necessary, but due to each being engaged with their main duty, most of the time it was time consuming. But for this time, under the situation not knowing what is to happen when, speed and adaptability was required. Therefore, a cross-functional project team with participants from all the concerned sales, marketing, operations, and overseas stations, was established. This project was for vaccine transportation, not only limiting to ANA group, but also cooperated with related external parties. Needless to say, any failure was absolutely unacceptable.”
Countermeasures taking advantage of the negative aspect of COVID-19 flexibly adapting to uncertain circumstances
Transportation route was from Belgium, the nearby point of the European production base, to Japan. Says Tomoki Kudo of ANA Cargo Global Sales - Sales Strategy, the flight schedule had to be adjusted to meet the special regulations of vaccine transport and the shippers’ requirements.
“The flight considered for vaccine transport from Europe resumed its operation in October 2020 after suspension due to the Corona disaster, although the Japan arrival time was scheduled in the evening prioritizing the passengers’ convenience. However, with this schedule, the actual timing of the cargo delivery had to be delayed in the night, after processes of import declaration and transfer to the storage. When considering many risks due to assumed land transportation time or such to the hospitals after the delivery, the Japan arrival schedule was required to be changed to morning time. But, the flight operation schedule is not easy to change. Cooperation from all parties concerned was necessary.”
At this stage, people’s mobility is very limited in the whole world. Determining the situation under COVID-19, ANA Cargo tried various measures to be utilized for vaccine transportation.
“In the preliminary survey, it revealed that the volume of vaccine transport = dry ice load was more than the assumption. Since the dry ice volume specified in ANA’s current regulations was much lower than the requirement indispensable for the vaccine transport, the upper limit had to be increased. One of the factors which made this possible was because of the present situation with no passengers traveling on board the flight. In principle, flight operation is prioritized on the passengers, but if there are no customers, loading restriction of dry ice can be relaxed, enabling more vaccine transport covered with dry ice. It was an idea taking advantage of the negative aspect.”
Each member of the project team solved issues, one by one, to realize the vaccine transportation. Though, on the other hand, they also keenly felt the difficulties under this uncertain situation.
“The hardest part was that the production volume or the shipment schedule of vaccines could not be known in a timely manner due to the international environment. Is the currently planned no. of flights really sufficient? Of course we will operate flights if necessary, but we want to effectively utilize the limited aircrafts. Moreover, in the future, there are possibilities of vaccines to be produced by other pharmaceutical companies or in offline countries where ANA does not operate. Still now, we have to continuously keep a close eye on the vaccines’ production amount and shipment schedule.”
Renewed current guidelines to secure quality management and transport volume.
Loadable dry ice dramatically increased.
The biggest issue of the vaccine transport was the temperature control = handling of dry ice and its large amount of loads to maintain the quality. Shunsuke Fujioka of ANA Cargo - Global Service Planning who had handled many cases of dangerous goods was appointed to manage this task.
“Pfizer’s vaccine to be stored below -70°C, was a temperature range which ANA Cargo had never transported before, and it was necessary to control the applicable amount of dry ice. The information of vaccines collected by the marketing and sales members was shared among relevant teams, within and outside the company. Based on sublimation rate data of dry ice, re-verification of the loadable volume was requested to the Flight Operations department. The conditions were cleared upon coping with necessary procedures, such as revision of the regulations and coordination with the authority. As a result, we could dramatically increase the loadable amount of dry ice per flight.”
Besides raising the load limit, it was also necessary to consider the safety. Additionally, to maintain the temperature after the arrival of vaccines, adjustment in large-scale at the Japan side was required.
“By loading a large amount of dry ice, a fairly high concentration of CO2 will be filled in the aircraft. It would be extremely dangerous if in such condition the cargo staff suddenly opens the door, so that a dedicated process was added as well to start handling after ventilation is sufficiently conducted.
Furthermore, it was required to transfer the vaccines from the aircraft to the warehouse at the soonest timing possible upon arrival in Japan. So, not only smooth handling in ANA cargo warehouse, but also the arrival aircraft’s parking spot nearby the cargo facilities was arranged by requesting through the in-charge coordination team, even knowing such changes was very difficult. Actually, by parking the aircraft right in front of the cargo warehouse, which usually was not used for general imports, adjustment was made to enable direct transfer of the shipments to the facility. Also, to minimize the transfer time, dedicated staff were assigned for prompt handling.
While the normal transfer distance is 500 ~ 800 meters from the arrival spot, it was shortened to 100 ~ 200 meters, achieving a reduction of exposure time to ambient temperature.”
This vaccine transportation required so much of exceptional adjustments, but on the other hand, many of the cargo loaded on the usual scheduled flights are also important to be quality controlled. Of course, all the logistics flow = infrastructure shall not be stopped.
“The present operation is considered to continue as long as vaccine transportation is there, aiming to realize what ANA group can only do. Air transportation time may be very small compared to the entire logistics, but still, it is our social responsibility to contribute to lead people living in comfort and safety. ANA group will continuously spare no effort making full use of its advantages.”
Borderless cooperation between Belgium and Japan.
Special operations with care from shipment to delivery.
Pfizer’s vaccines transported to Japan are shipped from Belgium, nearby the European production base. Aya Nozawa of ANA Cargo – International Cargo Support has devoted strenuous effort to support the two bases’ smooth cooperation by closely communicating with Belgium in Japan.
“Under the current circumstances when vaccines are needed on global scale, it is said that to cover the vaccines transportation for the coming 2 years, 8,000 of large Boeing 747 freighters are required to be operated. At the timing of the project’s commencement, how we should cooperate with the departure and arrival stations to cope with the increasing vaccine supply was the urgent matter to tackle.”
Among all these tasks, it was necessary to design an optimal handling of the airport operations in regard to the temperature management.
“Originally, due to the departure airport in Belgium already experienced of pharmaceuticals transport in the past, as well as having temperature control facilities, we had not much of worries at the beginning. However, with the current procedures and regulations, it was a question whether the handling was possible at the departure airport when considering the required significant amount of dry ice to be loaded on each flight. For this reason, discussions and trial calculations were repeatedly done until the last minute since fixing the maximum loadable weight was the most difficult part.”
Not only internal coordination, but also it was necessary to respond to the shippers’ concerns and detailed requirements. Hence, even for the area which usually is not in charge of, was taken into consideration, asking for cooperation of the members and staff involved.
“Adjustments, such as advancement of acceptance cutoff time, was conducted due to more time being required for various checks compared to general cargo. On the contrary, upon obtaining understanding of our situation, the cargo has been also built-up by the customers in a condition to be loadable straight on the aircraft in the same form it was delivered for acceptance. Therefore, the volume of operational work and cause of damages at the airport side could be reduced, realizing efficient transportation based on the cooperation between the customers and the airline. Having the cooperation of the local staff at the departure airport, making the most of the ANA group’s advantages, the coordination was smoothly proceeded.”
Since this being the very first case for both parties, upon elaborate preparation, it could not be realized without close communication and consensus.
“Unquestionably, I believe it was workable owing to the mutual understanding and cooperation among the concerned parties. Not only within the ANA group, but it was also questioned between the customers, how we could make this vaccine transport successful? Most probably the aimed goal was all the same among all concerned. Thus far, each cargo is transported with close care and full attention. Despite the undesirable circumstances of COVID-19, I think it was a good chance to set up the challenging project.”
High quality management and security measures
responding to the shippers’ needs in European area
Under this project, close cooperation with the European side was one of the key factors of successful transportation. According to Yoshihisa Takada of ANA EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa) regional headquarter based in London, managing the entire sales of Europe, coordination with the departure airport’s operations team was conducted in line with the shippers’ needs at European side, which is the base of the export.
“Japan side’s members did a great job negotiating with each concerned party, internally and externally, to ensure vaccine transportation by adjusting various matters, including relaxation of transport restrictions. While coordinating with the Japan side, we listened to the European customers’ requests, simultaneously coordinating with the departure airport to provide handling in order to respond to those needs. Regarding the handling of normal pharmaceuticals, there was totally no problem based on sufficient experience. But as for this vaccine transportation, though the required hurdle is high, no failure is allowed. To somehow respond to the customers’ needs, various difficult tasks were requested asking for the cooperation of the Belgium airport.”
In proceeding with the vaccine transportation project, problems other than quality management never faced before when handling general cargo was identified. It was reinforcement of security.
“When the world’s attention for the vaccine transportation was getting stronger every day, in addition to temperature control, strict security was required. For this purpose, such arrangements of special dollies were made for transfers from warehouse to the shipside, as well as setting a detailed timeline of delivery from warehouse to loading, while taking thorough measures for temperature control and security. Of course, all of these were never experienced in the past.”
To realize this project, unallowable of any failure, consensus and challenging spirits among all members was indispensable. And above all, the strong support of the airport members at Belgium made this feasible.
“How can things be achieved which are not usually done? I was always questioning myself. Needless to say, the success owes to the capability of Belgium frontline staff and the support of the Japanese members. Even for those cases not meeting the ANA standards, which normally would have been given up to handle, could be overcome with everyone’s close cooperation. I can say, ANA group’s action guidelines, safety・customer’s perspective・social responsibility・team spirit・endeavor and challenge, were all reflected in this project.”
Capabilities shown by departure airport in Belgium
which only frontline of ANA Cargo・ANA can demonstrate
Same as Takada, Masahiro Maida, based in London, is in charge of the entire ANA airport operations. Coordination with Belgium, the departure point of vaccine transportation, was assigned. It is the frontline, exactly being the significant key of air transportation.
“It is desirable to keep the vaccines in the temperature control storage to the last minute before departure. On the other hand, at Belgium, it was necessary to consider various things from the viewpoint of punctual departure and safety, so that the cargo had to be moved out from the temperature controlled storage at the right timing, being transferred to the aircraft parking spot.”
Besides the temperature and humidity difference between Japan and Belgium, cargo other than vaccines are always moving at the airports in Belgium. Of course, the departure airport is required to provide handling considering its circumstances or situation.
“Though there is a regulation for vaccines to be kept under controlled temperature of minus 70℃, as a matter of fact, there also is a condition to avoid excessive cooling caused by the soft box and ambient temperature. In Belgium, there were days such as the temperature becoming minus 10℃, which made us worry. Also, the regulation of the departure airport stipulates it is required to deliver usual dangerous goods, including dry ice, by 8 hours prior to the take-off. Although, since this timeline could not meet the shippers’ needs so that with the cooperation of the departure airport, it was shortened to 4 hours responding to the request. Furthermore, in order to minimize the occurrence of temperature variance, the shipments were stored in the cargo warehouse until the last minute, applying procedures to transfer them from the warehouse and promptly load on the aircraft such as 1 hour before the departure.”
This surely is the strength of ANA group, proving the capability of the local airport by the challenge.
“The most motivating part of this vaccine project was when thoroughly considering the answer for the question, at what timing shall the vaccine cargo stored in the temperature controlled facility be transferred to the aircraft parking spot, and what is the justification of this timeline? And also, upon well balancing the needs of both shippers and the operations team, a proper plan was successfully created to make decisions for the optimal “solution”. This is the true value or the essential role of the indirect department, making such an important contribution, I felt.”
Day by day after the first transportation, the volume of imported Novel Coronavirus vaccines is increasing. Consequently, ANA is enhancing its supply capacity for the transportation between Belgium and Japan.
In conjunction with the volume increase of the import or transportation, large sized Boeing 777-300ER aircraft were newly operated, replacing the medium sized Boeing 787-9. This is the first time for ANA to serve with Boeing 777-300ER aircraft between Japan and Belgium.
By operating this Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, compared to 787-9 type, at the most 1.7 times more of the Novel Coronavirus vaccine is now able to be transported. Optimal transport method will be applied accordingly depending on the situation.
Vaccine transportation has realized・commenced
but the challenge for the future is just a start
“I think in this time’s challenge for the vaccine transportation, we could fully demonstrate our team spirit, which is the ANA group’s philosophy.” (Imaoka)
Though at the beginning, the vaccine transportation started with totally no information, but eventually, it developed to a most important project involving concerned external parties, as well as the entire ANA group in a full-scale. And in the spring of 2021, under the unprecedented circumstances of everything being the first experience, we finally reached the actual transportation.
“Despite the start of vaccine transportation, the situation hasn’t yet changed of the people not being able to meet whomever wanted to see, go out eating, and do whatever they wanted, or fly on planes. By the widespread vaccines, I sincerely hope this abnormal life will return to normal.” (Kudo)
“When the first flight of the vaccine transportation safely landed, “ANA supported this historical moment”, we were told from the concerned people outside. Air transport business, not directly involving the public, is apt to be unnoticeable to the customers. However, in such emergency cases like this time, I strongly realized that we are relied on. Within the ANA group, when the passenger business is stagnant, the cargo side can support, and vice versa. In the future also, I would like to make social contributions through logistics, as cargo being an indispensable business for everyone’s living.” (Nozawa)
As the words indicate, the vaccine transportation has just taken its first step. Considering the possibility of new production bases or destinations to be newly increased in the coming future, the opportunity of requiring air transportation is also expected to increase.
And, to lead the transportations to normal life and better future, challenges of ANA Cargo and ANA group shall continue.
ANA Cargo Global Marketing – Products & Services
Project Leader of Vaccine Project
Joined ANA Cargo in 2019.
Kazuya has been involved in industrial marketing and product development. In this vaccine project, he is in charge of coordinating with shippers, forwarders, government agencies, etc. Kazuya’s hobby is jogging.
ANA Cargo Global Sales – Sales Strategy
Joined ANA Cargo in 2020.
Tomoki has been involved in coordinating with global forwarders. In this vaccine project, he is in charge of coordinating with shippers, forwarders, etc. Tomoki’s hobby is watching baseball games.
ANA Cargo Operation – Global Service Planning
Joined ANA Cargo in 2008.
Shunsuke has been involved in coordinating cargo operations. In this vaccine project, he is in charge of coordinating various operations such as deregulation of dry ice. Shunsuke’s hobby is watching sports and KARAOKE.
ANA Cargo Operation – International Cargo Support
Joined ANA Cargo in 2002.
Aya has been involved in supporting cargo operations of overseas airport. In this vaccine project, she is in charge of coordinating with Belgium, the origin airport of vaccine. Aya’s hobby is watching sports and visiting architecture.
ANA EMEA(Europe, Middle East and Africa) Cargo
Joined ANA in 2003.
Yoshihisa has been involved in cargo sales and marketing at Europe. In this vaccine project, he is in charge of coordinating with shippers, forwarders at Belgium. Yoshihisa’s hobby is traveling and golf.
ANA Airport Services & Operations planning for EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa)
Joined ANA Cargo in 1995.
Masahiro has been involved in management of cargo operation at European airport. In this vaccine project, he is in charge of operation at Belgium. Masahiro’s specialty is TEMPURA.