Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL) said it has delivered two shipments of Pfizer Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine, joining American Airlines (NASDQ: AAL) and United Airlines in supporting distribution of the initial wave of doses to the American public.
Delta said it transported the shipments from Detroit to Atlanta and San Francisco on regularly scheduled passenger flights. The airline declined to provide further details.
The shipment likely was a pass through from FedEx Express (NYSE: FDX) or UPS (NYSE: UPS), which often outsources freight to ground and air transportation partners to supplement capacity in their integrated networks. The two express carriers are the exclusive transportation providers for Pfizer’s (NYSE: PFE) COVID vaccine rollout.
On Monday, American Airlines completed a COVID vaccine delivery from Chicago to a U.S. territory in the Caribbean, most likely Puerto Rico.
The major U.S. carriers with international networks have extensive experience handling pharmaceutical products, but stepped up preparations this year for COVID vaccines. All three established vaccine task forces to plan for the unique logistics requirements of moving sensitive vaccines at subfreezing temperatures, and even conducted mock shipments to test their systems. They each have 24/7 pharmaceutical control towers that provide centralized monitoring and customer reporting on the inside temperature and location of every frozen box. Shipments also get white-glove handling, with first-on/first-off service to minimize exposure to the elements.
The COVID shipments traveled on passenger planes even though Delta, like many counterparts, is now flying all-cargo aircraft while passenger demand remains at an ebb during the coronavirus pandemic. Delta says it has operated more than 1,800 cargo-only flights carrying personal protective equipment, mail, home office supplies, food and other merchandise.
4,000 and counting
Meanwhile, Air Canada (TO: AC) said its 4,000th passenger-freighter flight since mid-March landed Wednesday in Lima, Peru.
The Boeing 777 jet departed Toronto with an assortment of freight from around the world including pharmaceuticals from Delhi and Hyderabad, India, as well as Brussels; medical equipment from Istanbul and Frankfurt, Germany; water purifying equipment from Philadelphia; and vehicle parts from Shanghai, Air Canada Cargo spokeswoman Johanne Cadorette said.
The return flight will carry mangoes bound for Frankfurt; asparagus for Madrid, London and Paris; turmeric and facemasks to Toronto; textiles to Edmonton, Canada, and Hong Kong; and ceramic tiles to Tel Aviv, Israel. Perishables will be loaded in the cabin.
“Cargo-only flights are successful when there is a demand both ways,” said Rene Rojas, the Latin America general manager for cargo sales and services. “We currently operate about 14 flights per week out of South America, from Bogota, Sao Paolo and Quito, and Lima. The converted [seats temporarily removed] A330 and 777-300 aircraft have been ideal for perishables from this region, which typically continue to Asia and Europe and Canada.”
Air Canada expects to play a key role in COVID vaccine distribution after re-engineering their business model to prioritize freight. The airline will transport vaccine shipments for international freight forwarders, governments or humanitarian organizations on scheduled or charter flights and is currently conducting operational readiness exercises to ensure training, procedures and facilities are updated and meet the latest pharmaceutical industry requirements, Wednesday’s statement said.
FedEx Express and UPS are delivering the Pfizer vaccine in Canada, and FedEx Canada won a contract from the Canadian government to distribute non-Pfizer vaccines in the country.
In July, the International Air Transport Association certified Air Canada for meeting the highest standards of pharmaceutical logistics.
Air Canada recently launched plans to eventually convert some older Boeing 767 passenger aircraft to pure freighters and operate a hybrid fleet.