Korean Air prepares for global COVID-19 vaccine delivery

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Korean Air launches a COVID-19 vaccine transport task force to prepare for the safe and swift transport of coronavirus vaccines once they become available.

“Korean Air’s task force is reviewing all aspects concerning the vaccine’s transport, and will develop a strong system and infrastructure for its safe and swift distribution when it’s ready to be delivered,” says Eum Jae Dong, senior vice president and head of Cargo Business Division at Korean Air.

Transporting vaccines is a delicate and challenging process requiring specialised storage facilities and equipment. Vaccines generally need to be stored at low temperatures between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius whereas some types require temperatures as low as -70 degrees Celsius.

Korean Air’s cargo terminal at Incheon International Airport has 1,292 sqm of cold storage that can accommodate 100 tonnes of freight. In addition, to expand its operations, the airline plans to use the 2,533 sqm Cool Cargo Center next to Incheon International Airport (ICN) Terminal 2 when it opens next year.

Korean Air has considerable experience delivering specialised and emergency freight during the COVID-19 pandemic including medical equipment and personal protection equipment (PPE). In April, the airline was recognised for its swift delivery of half a million COVID-19 test kits to Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Maryland, US, an airport it had never served before.

The carrier’s expertise in managing and transporting pharmaceuticals has been recognised through certification by IATA’s Centre of Excellence for Independent Validators on Pharmaceutical Handling (CEIV Pharma).

IATA recently announced that 8,000 B747s will be needed to transport one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for every person in the world. Air transport will be crucial and in high demand for the vaccine’s safe and timely distribution.

The airline’s task force is monitoring vaccine developments including:

  • vaccine types and corresponding storage temperatures;
  • identifying and securing necessary equipment and facilities;
  • strengthening monitoring, safety and security procedures to deal with exceptional situations;
  • conducting simulations of diverse scenarios.

“Korean Air is doing its best to help bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic by delivering the vaccine throughout the world as quickly and safely as possible,” Eum adds.

South Korea’s largest carrier recently converted two B777-300ER passenger aircraft into cargo-only configuration after obtaining approval from the transport ministry. The move is in line with many other airlines around the globe, which are now using their passenger aircraft for cargo flights, either by using cargo seat bags or removing seats.

In June, Korean Air was an early mover when it began to carry cargo in cargo seat bags as the pandemic flattened passenger travel demand and removed valuable belly cargo capacity from the market.

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