MIAMI – American Airlines (AA) is playing its part in the COVID-19 vaccine distribution by transporting it to various South American locations from its Miami (MIA) hub. With FDA approval for the COVID-19 vaccine right around the corner, it is obvious transporting it around the globe will be a logistical challenge.

American Airlines press release came out yesterday shortly after United Airlines (UA) announced it had begun flying the vaccine to Pfizer assembly centers. But before the vaccine can be distributed, AA needs to trial-run its vaccine transporting capabilities, stress-testing the thermal packaging and overall checking operational handling as the world prepares to mass-distribution of the vaccine.

American will use its large fleet of 777-200s on these trial-run flights to various South American destinations, with specific cities not specified by the airline.

American Airlines has utilized the 777-200 on its vaccine trial runs. Photo via American Airlines

Nothing New to American

Even though distributing the vaccine will be a historically unprecedented feat, AA has no shortage of flights transporting time-sensitive medical goods. The airline has transported hundreds of thousands of pounds of PPE, COVID-19 testing kits, medical equipment, and other pharmaceuticals since the beginning of the pandemic. AA is also a “recognized expert” in cold chain logistics and has been a part of transporting Phase III COVID-19 vaccine trials.

“The American Airlines team is working collaboratively with cargo, pharmaceutical and federal partners so we are ready to safely and quickly transport an approved vaccine. Despite the significant challenges the airline industry is facing, we’re working night and day to put our greatest strengths to use during this time of need — our network, our aircraft and our incredible team,” said American Airlines Cargo President Jessica Taylor.

American Airlines 777-200 at Miami. Photo: Matt Calise

Cargo Presence in Miami and South America

Even on a regular, non-pandemic basis, MIA has always been the cargo gateway from South America to the US. These facilities will be used to their full potential in the coming months as AA begins flying the vaccine. Currently American, Kalitta, Air Transport International, LATAM, LATAM Cargo, Avianca Cargo, Tampa Cargo, KLM Cargo, Martinair, and the IFL Group all have significant cargo presence from various South American destinations to Miami.

Additionally, AA has a wide range of resources necessary to distribute the vaccine. The airline has a team of experts who specialize in temperature critical shipments and are familiar with pharmaceuticals. This helps AA prepare for this logistical challenge.

furthermore, the airline has a large network of temperature-controlled cargo containers and facilities built for short-term storage while the vaccine is being handled and transported to its various final destinations.

Finally, in 2019, AA cargo operations underwent an IT and overhaul “to ensure better tracking and management” of its cargo, better suited for monitoring its shipments and troubleshooting for problems. Between this new technology and ground experts, the airline is confident it is up to the challenge to safely mass-distribute the long-waited vaccine.

Featured image: Mateo Skinner