Air cargo operators, airports planning steps to ensure smooth transport of COVID-19 vaccines  |  Photo Credit: BCCL
New Delhi: Major Indian airports will provide flexible slots and separate temperature-controlled zones while air cargo operators would run multiple flights in a short time span to transport COVID-19 vaccines that are expected to become available in India early next year.
The Indian government is in touch with Moderna, Pfizer, Serum Institute of India, Bharat Biotech and Zydus Cadila over the progress of the clinical trials of each of the vaccine candidates.
The CSMIA (Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport) in Mumbai is the “largest pharma gateway in the country” and it will provide flexible slot allocation for ad hoc freighter operations for transportation of COVID-19 vaccines, a spokesperson of the airport told PTI.
A slot is a date and time at which an aircraft is permitted to depart or arrive at an airport. The CSMIA will provide “round the clock green channel with dedicated truck docks, X-Ray machine, ULD (unit load device) buildup workstation” and key account managers will be deployed for “round the clock monitoring of vaccine operations”, the spokesperson said.
On the topic of COVID-19 vaccine transportation, a spokesperson of air cargo operator Blue Dart — which has six Boeing 757 freighter aircraft in its fleet — told PTI that the company’s air capability “has various scalability options including charters as well as variable timing options”. “We have eight pharma-grade conditioning rooms at eight strategic locations like Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Pune, Kolkata, Delhi, Bangalore, Pune. These rooms are in close proximity to our Blue Dart aviation station which increases our turnaround time and will aid in speedy delivery, he added.
A senior official of another major air cargo operator in India said the transportation of COVID-19 vaccines for as big as a population as India’s will be a “massive undertaking” and his company is readying to operate “multiple flights in a short time span” whenever the demand arises. Vaccine maker Serum Institute of India’s CEO Adar Poonawalla had on November 19 said at a summit that the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine should be available for healthcare workers and elderly people by around February 2021 and by April for the general public in India.
IndiGo, when asked about vaccine transportation planning, told PTI, “In line with our business model and cost leadership strategy, we are happy to evaluate the shipment of the COVID-19 vaccines on board our aircraft and will promise to contribute to the best of our abilities.”
IndiGo has, amid the pandemic, deployed 10 of its passenger aircraft for cargo operations only.
An Air India spokesperson said the airline “is hoping and would definitely be a part of any plan of ‘bringing the vaccine’ as well as transport it within the country.” A spokesperson of DIAL, which operates the Delhi international airport, said there are two cargo terminals with capacity to handle over 1.5 lakh million tonnes per annum and they have “state-of-the-art temperature-controlled zones with separate cool chambers ranging from +25 C to -20 C, which would be extremely conducive for distribution of COVID 19 vaccines”.
Besides, there are cool dollies at the airside that ensure an unbroken cool chain during temperature-sensitive cargo movement between terminal and aircraft, he added. A spokesperson of HIAL, which operates the Hyderabad international airport, said it also has temperature-controlled zones for vaccine transportation. Moreover, the freighter parking stands are just 50 meters away from the terminal, thereby minimizing the ramp exposure timing and ensuring quick turn-around of the aircraft, he said.
The CSMIA spokesperson said a dedicated COVID-19 task force will be responsible for advance planning and collaboration with all the stakeholders within the supply chain process to “ensure optimal temperature management, dwell time reduction with prior special permissions from the regulators and lower processing time”. “Furthermore, a round the clock customer service cell will be dedicated for COVID-19 vaccine EXIM (export and import) consignments in order to address customer queries, pre-alerts and status updates,” he said.