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Delta donates airlift capacity for Operation Fly Formula

Airline will use passenger aircraft to support imports of baby formula made in UK

Delta Air Lines is volunteering to carry infant formula from overseas to the U.S. to help overcome a domestic production shortfall. (Flickr/Joost J. Bakker IJmuiden)

Delta Air Lines will fly baby formula from the United Kingdom to Boston and Detroit this month free of charge on regularly scheduled passenger flights, mirroring the public service provided by United Airlines to help the U.S. government alleviate an ongoing domestic shortage.

The Department of Health and Human Services arranged for Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL) to carry the shipments from London’s Heathrow Airport to Logan Airport in Boston and Detroit Metro Airport between June 20 and 24, the White House announced Friday afternoon.

The 13 widebody flights donated by Delta will carry more than 212,000 pounds of Kendamil formula, enough to make 3.2 million 8-ounce bottles. 

The Kendamil Organic and Classic formula, made available through Operation Fly Formula, will be distributed and available for purchase at select U.S. retailers nationwide, as well as online.  The Food and Drug Administration is exercising enforcement discretion so that Kendamil can export at least 2 million cans of Kendamil infant formula — the equivalent of at least 54 million 8-ounce bottles to the United States. 

The U.S. is waiving strict import rules as long as foreign brands have a strong record of inspection safety and the formula meets testing and other criteria.

The FDA on Friday also said it has cleared the way for Abbott Laboratories (NYSE: ABT) facility in Spain to ship three types of Similac brand formula to the U.S. The Department of Health and Human Services is evaluating options for transporting about 686,530 cans of formula in June. 


On Thursday, the first shipment of 3.7 million bottle equivalents of Kendamil infant formula landed at Dulles airport in Virginia aboard a donated United Airlines (NASDAQ: UAL) flight. A FedEx freighter under contract with the Defense Department also brought a shipment of Nestle formula from Germany to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport

Operation Fly Formula is an emergency airlift organized by the Biden administration to expedite delivery of overseas infant formula that meets U.S. safety standards. The program was originally set up to rely on Defense Department contract carriers, but Delta and United have volunteered their services directly to HHS.  

A total of four Operational Fly Formula flights have arrived so far, including another FedEx flight and one conducted by the U.S. Air Force.

On Thursday, the FDA said it is also loosening import requirements for Nestle NAN Expert Pro Sensi Pro, a general formula, after reviewing the company’s testing, labeling and production procedures, as well as its inspection history. HHS is evaluating options for getting the product, which will be sold online at Gerber.com, to the U.S. as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, an HHS spokesperson said flights carrying 380,000 pounds of Bubs Australia infant formula — enough for 4.6 million bottles —  from Melbourne to Los Angeles and Columbus, Ohio, are now expected to arrive Sunday and next Thursday. The shipment to Rickenbacker airport in Columbus will be trucked to Nestle’s Pennsylvania facility. The White House previously said the shipments were scheduled for Thursday and Saturday and didn’t name specific destinations.

The airport authority that operates Los Angeles International Airport on June 12 posted a video on Twitter showing the arrival of a Silk Way West Boeing 747 freighter with 95,000 cans of baby formula. Silk Way West is based in Azerbaijan.

The Biden administration’s all-of-government approach toward increasing formula supplies, which ran down after a plant was temporarily closed because of contamination concerns, includes invoking the Defense Production Act to ensure suppliers prioritize certain ingredients for formula makers. Two manufacturers and a major distributor are now able to add legally binding language in their supplier contracts to get first-in-line access to ingredients. 

(Editor’s Note: This story was updated June 15, 2022, 6:15 A.M. ET with details on Silk Way West and Bubs formula.)

More FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.

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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]