Industry Articles

Rooting for Pharmaceuticals

AF1819_ED02_pix1As time-sensitive, high-valued products, pharmaceuticals seem designed for airfreight. Yet only 0.5 million tonnes of pharmaceutical products are currently transported by air compared with 3.5 million tonnes by sea. But that is about to change. As transporting pharmaceuticals is big business, the aircargo industry has rolled out a string of initiatives to enable it to secure a good slice of the growing pie.

At issue is the lack of global certification standards that are internationally recognised and implemented, and losses are high. “When differing standards are used by the various participants in the supply chain, the integrity of pharma shipments can be compromised, resulting not only in the loss of potential life-saving products but also in the loss of trust in the pharmaceutical handling supply chain itself,” said Ronald Schaefer, IATA’s assistant director, Cargo, Ground Operations and CEIV Consulting.

Working alongside aviation industry stakeholders and regulators, IATA created the Center of Excellence for Independent Validators in Pharmaceutical Logistics (CEIV Pharma) in 2014 to set global standards and regulations, and ensure compliance through a process of independent validation.

Programme components are updated on a yearly basis and training reflects the latest industry best practices. Said Mr Schaefer, “The comprehensive 290-plus-point checklist covering everything from Quality Management System documentation to on-ramp handling activities is also updated to reflect the latest technologies as well as industry and regulatory requirements.”

Singapore Signs On
Given the importance of pharmaceuticals to the economy, Singapore is amongst the first to adopt the CEIV. At the Changi Airport pharmaceuticals is one of the fastest-growing sectors, and within Singapore’s manufacturing sector, the biomedical sciences is one of the key pillars accounting for some 18% of manufacturing output.

SATS Coolport – SATS’ dedicated perishables facility – led the way. In November 2014, SATS Coolport became the world’s first recipient of the CEIV Pharma.

With this certification, SATS Coolport is able to train, advise and support industry stakeholders in pharmaceutical handling, to meet the rigorous requirements of the industry. In March 2015, SATS launched the SATS Coolport Academy becoming the first ground-handling agent in Asia to offer specialised training in pharmaceutical handling.

Changi also became the first airport in the Asia Pacific to adopt a community approach for CEIV Pharma; at least one company from each mode is certified. Initiated by airport manager and operator Changi Airport Group (CAG) in early 2016, the pioneering batch of six companies comprised freighter carrier SIA Cargo, airport ground handler dnata Singapore, and freight forwarders Global Airfreight International, Expeditors Singapore, CEVA Logistics Singapore and Schenker Singapore. This community approach has helped to boost the pharmaceutical cargo handling capabilities at Changi Airport.

Later that year, CAG joined Pharma.Aero, an organisation dedicated to achieving reliable end-to-end air transportation for pharmaceutical cargo, making Changi the first airport in Asia to join the pharmaceutical-focused organisation.

In October 2017, CAG formalised the Pharma@Changi initiative. Signatories of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) comprised all companies which have obtained the CEIV Pharma.

CAG’s Mr Lim said, “As the first air cargo community in the Asia Pacific to attain the IATA CEIV Pharma certification, the new Pharma@Changi initiative aims to further solidify the partnership among air cargo players at Changi Airport in strengthening Singapore’s capabilities, by jointly pursuing the best standards in pharmaceutical air cargo handling. Over the last three years, pharmaceutical cargo has consistently ranked among the top five cargo types transported via airfreight globally, in terms of total value. In the first eight months of 2017, Changi Airport handled more than 15,500 tonnes of pharmaceutical cargo.”