MIAMI – Lufthansa Cargo (LH) says it is well prepared for the global distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine that will occur in the coming months. A specially-assembled task force has been planning a number of potential transport scenarios since the spring.

According to a company press release, capacity and route planning, as well as ensuring the correct cold temperatures stay consistent across the travel chain, are some of the biggest challenges for this mission.

Photo: Luca Flores/Airways

Comments from Lufthansa Cargo Chairman

Peter Gerber, Chairman of the Executive Board of Lufthansa Cargo explains, “The distribution of temperature- and time-sensitive pharmaceuticals is extremely demanding. We were one of the first airlines to specialize in the transport of medical goods and pharmaceuticals and can therefore draw on many years of experience.”

“Thanks to the recent expansion of our ground infrastructure, we can also handle larger volumes while constantly maintaining the cold chain and transport them worldwide. In 2019, we transported around 100,000 tons of pharmaceuticals. We are ready to make another important contribution to overcoming the pandemic by distributing the vaccines worldwide.” 

Photo: Luca Flores/Airways

The COVID-19 Temp Premium Service

According to the release, while the transport of COVID-19 vaccines will be immediately available through LH Cargo at the beginning of January 2021, LH will introduce to its customers a premium service offering specifically built for the transport of the vaccines.

As such, the COVID-19 Temp Premium service will be bookable from the beginning of January and will include a high level of robust and personalized customer service throughout the travel chain, including smooth tracking of shipments of vaccines during the whole process and a 24/7 hotline.

Lufthansa Cargo provides its customers with space to move goods from the airport to airport thanks to its cargo airline capabilities. The airline makes use of the worldwide flight link network and of the loading capability of the available flights of Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines (OS), Brussels Airlines (SN)and Eurowings (EW).

Photo: Francesco Cecchetti/Airways

Lufthansa Cargo Pharma Hubs

Lufthansa Cargo’s clients consist of air freight forwarding companies. For the handling of goods at the airports, the air freight subsidiary organizes the necessary temperature-controlled ground infrastructure for its worldwide network of stations, such as the Pharma Hubs in Frankfurt and Munich or the Pharma Station in Chicago, which was newly opened this summer.

Lufthansa Cargo Pharma Hub Frankfurt
– Largest center for temperature-controlled logistics in Europe: state-of-the-art, certified
– More than 8,000 square meters / 90,000 square feet 
– Pharma-Hub in Frankfurt with specially trained staff
– Constant temperature control from -20°C to +30°C (-4 °F to 86 °F) 
– Special handling procedures, optimized apron time, storage in temperature controlled environments

Lufthansa Cargo Pharma hub Munich (new since summer 2020)
– Approx. 1,000 square meters / 10,000 square feet and on several levels
– Space for up to 96 pallets and loose loads in two different temperature ranges (+2 to +8 °C = 35 to 47 °F and +15 to +25 °C = 59 to 77 °F)
– Freezer up to -18 °C = 0 °F

Lufthansa Cargo Pharma Center in Chicago at O’Hare International Airport (new since summer 2020)
– 750 square meter plant / 8,000 square feet
– Multi-level room for up to 54 pallets and 102 refrigerated containers in two different temperature ranges (+2 to +8 °C = 35 to 47 °F and +15 to 25 °C = 59 to 77 °F)
– Freezer up to -18 °C = 0 °F

Photo: Phil Wilco/Airways

One of the Largest Pharmaceutical Networks

Lufthansa Cargo had already invested heavily in the requisite ground infrastructure well before the pandemic, including a brand new facility in the US that opened in June, the Lufthansa Cargo Pharma Center Chicago at O’Hare International Airport (ORD). Furthermore, LH Cargo has one of the world’s largest airline pharmaceutical networks with its pharmaceutical hubs and over 300 other stations with active or passive cooling facilities worldwide.

30 of these stations, including those at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and Dulles International Airport (IAD) in Washington DC, are now CEIV Pharma-certified. The certification indicates, as a global standard, that the facility follows strict requirements for the proper handling and storage of pharmaceutical shipments.

The Lufthansa Cargo Atlanta and DC stations have dedicated pharmaceutical sections operated by highly-trained personnel, a wide range of options for temperature-controlled storage, as well as in-place temperature tracking, logging and alarm systems. Together with pharmaceutical forwarding companies and airlines, the World Aviation Association has created the IATA CEIV Pharma standard to harmonize quality standards across industries.

Photo: Luca Flores/Airways

A CEIV-Pharma Accredited Airline

Lufthansa Cargo was one of the first airlines worldwide to be CEIV-Pharma accredited, with its own high quality requirements, and continues to grow its network of certified stations worldwide.

The actual vaccine transport routes are largely dependent on the potential manufacturing sites for licensed vaccines and the respective recipient markets. With its current freighter fleet of 19 aircraft, LH Cargo is able to adapt flexibly to changes in demand and to add additional passenger aircraft capacity if required.

According to the carrier, for the transport of pharmaceuticals, three temperature ranges (based on the ambient temperature) are available in airfreight: moderate (+15 to +25°C), cool (+2 to +8°C) and deep-frozen (-12 to -20°C).  Lufthansa Cargo also has experience with transports in the ultra-frozen range (-70°C). By using special refrigerated containers and means, such as dry ice, the most diverse requirements of pharmaceutical manufacturers can be met. 

LH8454 D-ALCD. Photo: Wiki Commons

Prepared for the Biggest Vaccine Rollout in History

It has not yet been conclusively clarified what specific requirements the COVID-19 vaccines that are about to be approved will place on packaging, transport, handling and storage, and what quantities are to be transported on which ways of transportation and over what periods of time.

It is clear that Lufthansa’s cargo arm has been planning for this moment for months and, thanks to its extensive worldwide network, the organization is confident in its far-reaching capabilities.

In preparation of what IATA has dubbed the “mission of the century’ for air transport, LH continues its ongoing dialogue with freight forwarders, pharmaceutical suppliers, airports, ground handlers, politicians and authorities to ensure that the logistics process runs smoothly, in order to prepare for this enormous medical task which the world is on the verge of executing.

Featured image: Nick Sheeder/Airways