Cargo handler Worldwide Flight Services (WFS) has launched Project Coldstream to coordinate its preparations for the anticipated global transport of some 16 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine, expected to commence in late 2020 and continue through 2021-2022.


According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the industry expects this to be the largest airlift of a single commodity ever, requiring the equivalent capacity of 8,000 747 aircraft.


Headed by taskforce leader, Mike Duffy, WFS’ EVP Innovation, and supported by senior operations, commercial and communications specialists across WFS’ global network, Project Coldstream is working closely with airlines, forwarders and logistics providers, government agencies and industry organisations such as Pharma.Aero and The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) to clearly understand temperature and handling requirements.


WFS said the Group will be responsible for developing in-house solutions for the vaccine delivery, ensuring the preparedness of WFS’ pharma handling capability, devising plans for additional capacity where needed, and working closely with WFS’ airline customers.


IATA-certified facilities


"WFS’ multi-million Euro investments in a network of temperature-controlled pharma handling facilities at strategic airport locations around the world over the past two years means it has already earned preferred partner status with many of the world’s biggest transporters of pharmaceuticals and medical devices," it said in a statement.


WFS currently operates 12 dedicated pharma facilities in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels, Cape Town, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Johannesburg, London, Madrid, Miami, New York JFK, and its €10 million state-of-the-art Pharma Centre at Paris CDG.


These facilities are all either IATA CEIV or Good Distribution Practice (GDP) certified or compliant.


“Since the start of the COVID pandemic, WFS has been at the forefront of the global response, ensuring vital supplies of PPEs and other medical supplies arriving at airports for hospitals and medical centres around the world have been handled quickly and securely," said Barry Nassberg, WFS’ Group Chief Commercial Officer.


"We are extremely proud to be playing a key role in the international response to COVID and the next big stage of this will be the rapid and safe distribution of vaccines once they are approved. WFS’ significant investment in dedicated facilities and training for pharma shipments means we are uniquely placed to meet the requirements of governments, the pharma industry and our customers,” he added.


Vaccine delivery timeline


Across its network of pharma facilities, WFS’ capabilities include dedicated facilities in the heart of airport cargo zones to expedite handling of imports and exports; ability to manage shipments requiring both +2°C to +8°C and +15°C to +25°C temperature environments, and -20°C in some of our stations; real-time temperature monitoring and temperature excursion alarms; full track and trace capabilities; active temperature-controlled container handling; temperature-controlled trucks, trailers and dollies; and landside and airside acceptance.


WFS has also dedicated teams of specialists assigned to each location — which it said have either completed IATA CEIV training or the special Pharma Module, developed by the WFS Academy, and accredited by IATA.


“The world is waiting for a COVID vaccine to save lives and to support economic recovery. Over half of global vaccine doses are expected to be transported by air cargo because of its speed and reliability, dictated by global demand and the absence of local production facilities in some countries. We are part of an industry-wide solution which is mapping where vaccines are being produced to ensure rapid global vaccine trade flows. We will use all the capabilities we have to deliver and support a consistent and reliable end-to-end handling solution,” said Duffy, the taskforce head.


The transportation of COVID vaccines is expected to commence by the end of 2020, reaching its peak in the second half of 2021, and continue into 2022.


Countries and trading blocs have already ordered over 5 billion doses and, already, some 65,000 tonnes of vaccine are forecast to require air cargo transportation, plus ancillary hardware and PPE which will be needed to administer it. 


According to the World Health Organization, some 140 COVID-19 vaccines are in the initial stages of development globally, with around two dozen being tested on people in clinical trials.


In accordance with demand, WFS will also ensure the preparedness of other key stations across its network spanning 175 airports in 20 countries in Europe, the Americas, Asia Pacific and Africa.