Economy, Latest on coronavirus outbreak

Global aviation sector ready for vaccine delivery race

Distribution of vaccine to be very challenging, especially for those that need extreme low-temperature storage, says expert

Aysu Bicer and Bahattin Gonultas   | 26.11.2020
Global aviation sector ready for vaccine delivery race

By Aysu Bicer and Bahattin Gonultas

ANKARA (AA) - The aviation industry, plagued by the novel coronavirus pandemic, is ready to help in delivering a potential COVID-19 vaccine across the globe.

Experts calculate that the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as its global distribution and logistics, will be a challenging process, with 15,000 flights and 15 million cooler boxes needed to transport every 10 billion doses.

"Distribution of the vaccine will be very challenging, especially for vaccines that require extreme cold-temperature storage," said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Therefore, many parts of the world may get alternative vaccines such as the Astra Zeneca version which does not require such cold storage, he underlined, adding that this would be a major public health undertaking irrespective of which vaccine is chosen for a given country.

"Countries will have to be very transparent with their populations when it comes to the risks and benefits of the vaccine.

"They will also need to articulate who will get the vaccine first and how that prioritization was determined."

- Passenger seats removed

This will be the largest and most complex logistics campaign of all time and, at the same time for the airlines, the "signal of a turning point that our industry has been waiting for so long," said Lufthansa CEO and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) chairman Carsten Spohr.

"The industry is ready and proud to do this," he noted.

Like other airlines, Lufthansa has started to remove seats from passenger aircraft to be able to carry more of the valuable cargo, he noted.

He also said the airlines had not expected the vaccination to start until the middle of next year. "Now, it might be in December," said Spohr.

- German government asks for military's help

Pfizer and BioNTech have reportedly completed their preparations for the distribution of the vaccine they produced in about 10 months.

The vaccine is envisaged to be distributed from Pfizer centers in the US, Germany and Belgium, then shipped by road and air and kept in certain distribution centers.

Germany's federal government, in which the vaccine's development was pioneered, asked its armed forces to help in the distribution efforts.

Frankfurt Airport will be a major transfer hub for the vaccines to be sent worldwide.

Also, the Fraport company, which operates Frankfurt Airport, has been preparing by establishing a working group in March for the logistics of the vaccine.

The Deutsche Post has been making extensive preparations as well to avoid any problems in the logistics.

- Turkish airlines to shoulder important task

Commenting on the issue, Ilker Ayci, the chairman of Turkish Airlines, also emphasized that the company would undertake an important task when the vaccine was ready.

"As the airline that flies to the most countries in the world, we have the equipment to provide all the storage and transportation conditions that the vaccine will need in our operation centers in Istanbul.

"As a recent example of this, we've transported vaccines from China to Brazil."

He also said Turkish Airlines took on an important responsibility to ensure that the global food, medicine and medical product chain was not disrupted during the pandemic.

"Our successful air cargo brand, Turkish Cargo, has created an international air bridge with its experience, qualifications and flight network.

"We also used our wide-body passenger planes on our cargo flights to meet the demand."

According to the latest report by IATA, vaccines and test transportation are expected to support global travel at 50% of the 2019 levels next year, with significant gains later in the year.

The industry is predicted to suffer net losses of $118 billion this year, cutting these losses to $38 billion in 2021.

The industry's financial performance is expected to recover first in the Asia-Pacific region followed by airlines in the developed markets.​​​​​​​

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