Singapore Changi air hub primed for Covid vaccine distribution

Singapore Airlines pharma
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Singapore Changi Airport’s air cargo hub is ready for the transportation and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, says the Changi Ready Taskforce.

The taskforce, co-led by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and Changi Airport Group (CAG), is made up of 18 members from across the Changi air cargo community. The public-private collaboration involves government agencies, cargo handlers, airlines, and freight forwarders.task force members

Recognising that the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is a challenging task, the Changi Ready Taskforce was set up to better prepare Singapore’s air cargo community to meet the logistical demands of vaccine distribution.

This includes assessing and ramping up the hub’s ability to handle different types of COVID-19 vaccines, all within specific and stringent temperature-controlled environments to maintain the vaccines’ efficacy, as well as to manage an expected surge in the volume of vaccines to be air transported to the region, once they are approved by regulators.

Since October this year, the task force has sought to identify and address the potential challenges associated with air transportation of COVID-19 vaccines – through workstreams such as capabilities mapping of infrastructure and equipment, data visibility, and processes – to ensure that the COVID-19 vaccines can be safely, reliably and efficiently handled through the Changi air cargo hub for distribution into Singapore and to the region.

Ho Yuen Sang, director (Aviation Industry), Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, and co-lead of the Changi Ready Taskforce says: “Over the years, Changi Airport has built a strong track record in pharmaceutical handling by air, from serving Singapore’s pharmaceutical manufacturing sector.

dnata SIN Cool Dolly (5)
Dirk Goovaerts, regional CEO for Asia Pacific dnata notes the cargo handler has made significant investments in equipment, facilities, training, and certification including cool dollies which offer a temperature-controlled solution for pharmaceuticals between the dnata Coolchain Centre and the aircraft.

“We have good cold chain handling infrastructure and capabilities. With our strong air connectivity and SIA’s fleet of more than 200 passenger aircraft, we can deliver vaccines to multiple destinations according to demand. We are well-positioned to play a critical role in distributing COVID-19 vaccines to Singapore and the region,” Ho adds.

The largest pharmaceutical air cargo hub in the region and the first and largest IATA CEIV Pharma certified community in the Asia Pacific, Changi has at least one certified member in each node of the air cargo supply chain. Importantly, the Changi air cargo hub offers an unbroken cold chain necessary for the effective handling of temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical shipments.

Changi Airport Group’s managing director for Air Hub Development and co-lead of the Changi Ready Taskforce, Lim Ching Kiat comments: “The Changi air cargo hub has always placed a strong emphasis on pursuing the highest standards in pharmaceutical cargo handling. Given our efforts in infrastructure upgrades and manpower training over the years, our air cargo hub is well-poised to handle the transportation of COVID-19 vaccines”.

Handling component
Changi Airport’s cargo handlers – dnata and SATS, have steadily enhanced their cool chain infrastructure and equipment over the years to support the growing demands for transporting temperature-controlled cargo. Dnata’s CoolChain and SATS’ Coolport, which consist of temperature-controlled warehouses with adjustable temperature ranges between -25°C and +25°C, together cover more than 9,000 sqm. They offer a combined annual cool chain handling capacity of 375,000 tonnes with the ability to scale up when required.


SATS Coolport staff packs dry ice slabs into temperature-controlled ULDs as secondary packaging.

Both dnata and SATS have also recently introduced cool dollies – temperature-controlled containers designed specifically for temperature-sensitive goods to be transported with the highest level of cool chain integrity and visibility on the tarmac, between the aircraft and their temperature-controlled warehouses.

In addition to purchasing electric cool dollies and expanding its in-house dry ice production capacity to 4.5 tonnes per day, SATS Coolport has also increased the number of charging points to accommodate more active temperature-controlled containers on site, according to Nazri Othman, senior VP, Cargo Services SATS.

Both handlers are also equipped with multiple temperature-controlled truck docks and round-the-clock shipment monitoring. In addition, both handlers’ facilities are equipped with essential surveillance systems to ensure the security of the cargo.

Handling vaccines that must be stored in a frozen or deep-frozen state may require dry ice. Changi’s cargo handlers have ready access to dry ice to cater to such shipments along with trained personnel to handle them.

Air connectivity
Noting the sharp decline in belly-hold capacity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic the task force notes that Changi’s airline partners have been quick to ramp up charters and scheduled freighter operations since the onset of the pandemic. CAG has also worked with its partners to facilitate the introduction and growth of passenger services for cargo uplift to help alleviate the air cargo capacity crunch.

SATS Coolport
SATS Coolport staff conducts 24/7 temperature checks to ensure the temperature integrity of pharmaceutical products.

“Singapore Airlines has been working hard to ensure that we are ready for one of the biggest and most important supply chain challenges of our generation the transportation and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines around the world,” says Chin Yau Seng, senior VP Cargo Singapore Airlines.

“SIA has a well-established track record of safely and reliably transporting critical pharmaceutical shipments. We will continue to grow our pharmaceutical handling capability by investing in our THRUCOOL service and expanding our pharmaceutical quality corridor network. We are also working closely with our service partners to continuously improve pharmaceutical handling processes and capabilities across our network.”

As of 1 December 2020, weekly cargo flights at Changi Airport have tripled to more than 950 flights compared to end-2019. Changi Airport is now connected to about 80 cities by weekly cargo flights.

Changi Airport is well-positioned to serve as a regional hub in Southeast Asia and Southwest Pacific, to support the efficient distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Singapore Airlines operates multiple weekly flights from each of the key European pharmaceutical export hubs, such as Amsterdam, Brussels, and Frankfurt, and has an extensive network in Southeast Asia and Southwest Pacific.

Additionally, leading global integrators – such as DHL, FedEX, and UPS – have established their regional hubs in Singapore with strong network connectivity from Changi Airport.

dnata SIN Coolchain (2)
Dnata’s CoolChain facility with separate temperature-controlled rooms for varying requirements.

Changi’s extensive air network is complemented by Singapore’s position as a leading sea-port. With seamless air-sea connectivity, Singapore will also be able to offer customised solutions for pharmaceutical manufacturers to distribute their vaccines into the region in the steady-state.

Global collaboration

Both CAG and SATS are also part of the global taskforce Project Sunrays – a joint initiative between The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) and Pharma.Aero. This project aims to create transparency between pharma shippers and the global air cargo industry and establish useful guidelines for the air cargo industry to ensure the proper handling, storage, and transportation of high volume COVID-19 vaccines.

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