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The cool zone

Virgin Atlantic Cargo seems well positioned for growth in transatlantic pharma transportation along with partner Delta Cargo. Keith Mwanalushi checks in on its progress and the market

In October last year, Delta and Virgin Atlantic’s respective freight divisions announced the first joint venture cargo offering between the UK and the US. The two carriers now account for around 24% of the total cargo capacity between the two countries, the world’s biggest trade lane for pharmaceutical products.

“Virgin Atlantic has carried pharma shipments for many years to and from the US and this is certainly our biggest pharma lane,” Dominic Kennedy, Managing Director of Virgin Atlantic Cargo tells Airline Cargo Management.  

He also reports growing volumes on other parts of the network too, such as China and India, which are also fast-growing pharma markets. However, Kennedy points to the transatlantic market as the world’s biggest for two reasons: firstly, the largest pharma companies are either European or American organisations and, secondly, both markets have large, economically-strong consumer populations that value and can mostly afford good healthcare.

Virgin now covers 11 major destinations across North America and, alongside joint venture partner Delta Cargo, Kennedy feels the transatlantic cargo capacity is well-placed to meet growing demand from pharma shippers.

And the capacity is not limited to London Heathrow (LHR), its main base in the UK. In September last year the airline unveiled its biggest ever season of flying from Manchester Airport for 2018. Highlights include services to both New York JFK and Atlanta being upgraded to larger aircraft and an improved schedule.

For the pharma sector however, the focus is firmly at Heathrow where Virgin and Delta opened a joint pharma zone facility in October. “Our pharma volumes rose 20% year-on-year in 2017, and they were boosted further by the opening of our pharma zone at Heathrow in the fourth quarter. We expect 2018 will be a record year for the pharma volumes we carry,” Kennedy anticipates.

The new pharma zone at Heathrow will support the growing volumes of temperature-controlled healthcare and life science products being carried by both airlines and enhances their ability to meet the strict quality and service requirements of pharmaceutical companies and their freight forwarding partners.

Operated by Good Distribution Practice (GDP) trained staff, Kennedy says the pharma zone is dedicated to handling and storing pharma shipments and incorporates walk-in pods for loose pharma shipments and six chambers for pallet storage that can accommodate 24 pallets in 2-8°C or 15-25°C temperature ranges. “It is a secure and segregated area which also incorporates a series of charging points for active cargo containers,” he says.

“Everything we do is driven by our customers,” Kennedy adds, meaning listening to their requirements and then looking to provide the best solution to meet their needs. “A lot of companies talk about pharma, but we wanted to deliver a tangible benefit for customers to further improve our existing product and service offering. Talking with our customers, it was also very clear that they wanted to give us a bigger share of their pharma and life science business.”

Although demand for pharma air cargo services is growing, Kennedy reminds that it remains a very competitive market.

For instance, last June American Airlines Cargo opened a new Controlled Room Temperature (CRT) facility at its London Heathrow cargo centre.

According to American, the new CRT can accommodate up to 16 times more standard Euro skid pallets at one time than the previous room, providing greater capacity when it comes to moving temperature-sensitive healthcare freight to and from LHR.

Clearly, the newly enlarged CRT room will be of significant value to shippers moving specialist pharma traffic between Europe and the United States. As the second largest carrier from LHR across the Atlantic, American operates around 20 daily departures to the US, including links between LHR and Philadelphia, home to American’s 25,000ft2 pharmaceutical facility.

"This is a tremendous service enhancement for our European customers," said Andy Cornwell, Regional Sales Manager for Northern Europe at American Airlines Cargo back in June. "This new, far larger facility can meet their needs even more effectively now and in the future.” >>


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