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Good pharma

The air logistics industry knows it has a challenge ahead to increase the proportion of temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical goods that are transported by air

Helen Massy-Beresford discovers how new technologies, innovative products and, above all, better monitoring and communication should help the transition to the skies


Airlines, ground handlers, equipment suppliers and forwarders are hoping better monitoring, transparency and innovations on the ramp can help them claw back a bigger share of the temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals market from their big rivals: sea shippers.


The global pharmaceuticals industry is booming. The market for temperature management services was estimated at $8.36 billion in 2014, a figure that is expected to rise to $10.28 billion by 2018, according to IATA. However, IATA also says that the share of pharmaceuticals travelling by air has fallen from 17% in 2000, to 11% in 2013. 


To halt this swing – and even start moving the pendulum back in the opposite direction – companies must step up to the challenge of reassuring customers that their goods will be kept at exactly the right temperature throughout their journey.


IATA blames a lack of compliance, standardisation, accountability and transparency across the air supply chain for the fall, which it says leads to temperature excursions that render products useless – over 50% of all temperature excursions happen when temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical products are in the hands of airlines or airports.


Changing the momentum of the pharmaceutical industry will be hard for air freight operators – AstraZeneca said late last year that it intended to increase the proportion of its goods shipped by ocean to 70% within the next two years, compared to less than half in the previous two.


IATA’s Centre of Excellence for Independent Validators (CEIV) initiative is designed to help redress the balance by giving pharmaceutical companies the confidence that their goods will be safe in the air – and on the tarmac.


Winning a bigger slice of the pharmaceutical pie is important, as it is one of the few industries still showing year-on-year growth, says Manu Jacobs, Director Business Development, Pharmaceutical Logistics at Air France-KLM-Martinair Cargo. He points to a generalised wish among airlines and other air freight operators to invest in attracting pharmaceutical business.


“We estimate the growth to be somewhere between 5 and 9%, partially air and partly ocean, of course. What we also see is that the emerging markets are strongly increasing. In China there is a middle class population which is huge – of course they buy medicine and drugs as well,” he says.


Jacobs sounds a positive note about moving drugs and medicines by air. “We believe that there will always be a need for pharmaceutical shipments to fly, especially the high-value medicines which are very sensitive and time-critical, and where the demand is bigger than the supply. We see that increasing year over year, although from an airline perspective we do see a shift for lower end pharmaceutical products to go by ocean and road. For pharmaceutical companies, it is of course all about cost-savings, but we also believe it is about innovation and quality,” Jacobs says. Quality can also translate as transparency, giving customers the confidence that they know exactly what happens to their goods after they hand them over.


When it comes to innovation, Air France-KLM-Martinair Cargo, which already has an extensive range of both active and passive containers, as well as offering its customers services that include features like tracking shipments on their smartphones, is stepping up to the challenge posed by tarmac time. In Mexico, the carrier is testing out its Kold Kart dolly system, which keeps shipments at the right temperature even on the tarmac. Industry-wide initiatives, like IATA’s CEIV certification, which Air France-KLM-Martinair Cargo received earlier this year, are also helping, Jacobs says.


“We are the first major airline group to be officially validated by IATA. Some of our friendly competitors are now subscribing to this programme as well. We think that’s a good thing, because it will improve standards and set a benchmark in the industry. This all has to do with quality improvements, making things more visible and more transparent. It’s important to be ready to have the fight with ocean shippers.” >>

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