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Cool runnings

The air cargo industry is calling for higher standards when transporting temperature sensitive pharmaceuticals, as seen by the surge in demand for CEIV certification. Keith Mwanalushi checks in on progress

In order to fly pharmaceuticals to where they need to go there are strict processes in place to maintain the cold chain of the product. As outlined by IATA, transporting healthcare products by air demands a rigorous logistical approach. If mishandled, the intactness of these products can be compromised by temperature changes during transportation.


With the pharmaceutical industry moving over one trillion dollars worth of cargo every year, [IATA] upholding a shipment’s quality requires specific equipment, storage facilities, harmonised handling procedures and, above all, strong cooperation among the cold chain partners.


There has been a growing expectation to see compliance, standardisation, accountability and transparency across the supply chain and since 2014, IATA has developed standards that address these needs to ensure regulatory compliance and quality services. Enter the CEIV Pharma programme – it is a globally consistent, recognised and standardised certification for pharma shipments in air freight.


Brussels Airport played an active role in the creation and implementation of CEIV Pharma. “We co-developed the quality standards in collaboration with some of the big pharma shippers based in Belgium,” reveals Nathan De Valck, Cargo Business and Product Development Manager, Strategic Development at Brussels Airport Company.


With CEIV certification De Valck feels it gives a clear guideline to all the air cargo stakeholders on how to implement the shipper’s requirements. He says, especially in a community certification setup, like the BRUcargo community at the airport. “The programme helps to standardise and align all the companies involved in the cool chain at the airport.”


It’s important to note that Belgium is well known in the pharmaceuticals industry, as pharmaceuticals account for over 10% of Belgium's total exports, according to Alban François, VP Cargo at Brussels Airlines. The Brussels-based carrier’s pharmaceutical transport activities grew by 56% in 2017 and now consist of 10% of the airline’s cargo activities. “With the CEIV certificate, we look to further expand our pharma activities in the future,” he says.


François adds that the biggest investment during the CEIV Pharma validation process is an investment in time. “Moreover, Brussels Airlines Cargo has invested in a quality management system and has joined the Brussels Airport’s initiatives to use the airside pharma transportation dollies for all temperature sensitive pharmaceutical shipments.”


Being placed right in the middle of one of Europe’s strongest life science cluster, Medicon Valley, the safe transportation of pharmaceutical products has always been a top priority for SAS Cargo. Leif Rasmussen, CEO for the SAS Cargo Group says air freight should expect to gain its fair share in pharma transport as global regulations become mandatory and as it continues to meet the required standards to safely transport temperature sensitive products.


“The growing pharma market quite rightly expects that pharmaceutical transport should follow global standard and strict temperature control guidelines as well as transparency in transportation at all stages, traceability and execution of an unbroken temperature control logistics chain,” Rasmussen mentions.


In addition to making sure that its services meet global regulations, SAS have launched a new pharma product – SAS Pharma Cargo. “This offers our customers the ideal environment for handling temperaturesensitive cargo across the entire supply chain.”


Thierry Huizing, Project Manager at Swissport in the Netherlands recalls the pharma journey when it started, just a few years ago. “The pharma volumes were there, but they were not very visible to us as a cargo handling provider,” he admits.


“Ever since the industry started using a broad range of special handling codes for pharmaceutical goods, pharma has become more easily identifiable. This helped us track the flows through our facilities,” he adds.


Huizing reckons the CEIV programme is a real added value to standardisation of the handling procedures in pharmaceuticals at a global level. The Swissport Amsterdam cargo warehouse, for instance, can now handle pharmaceuticals at all the required levels. “If just one step is not executed with the necessary expertise and care then it can compromise the integrity of a shipment,” warns Huizing.


In preparation for CEIV validation, Swissport started by evaluating its then current handling procedures for pharmaceutical shipments. “Some procedures were already set up quite well, others had to be enhanced by adding additional control loops.”


Furthermore, the introduction of the IATA pharmaceutical acceptance check should help organisations ensure that the shipments are correctly labelled and provided with the right information. “This is a prerequisite. If the information is incomplete or even wrong, the next steps in the supply chain cannot be executed as required and the goods may be compromised as a result,” says Huizing. >>


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