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FedEx, United deliver foreign-made baby formula to Texas, Virginia

Operation Fly Formula organizes more import flights for coming days

A FedEx MD-11 cargo jet carrying a valuable shipment of infant formula gets a water cannon salute Thursday at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. (Photo: DFW/Chris Bousselot)

A FedEx Express MD-11 freighter and a United Airlines passenger jet landed Thursday afternoon at two major airports with emergency shipments of baby formula organized by the Biden administration as part of its campaign to alleviate a critical domestic food shortage for infants.

The FedEx (NYSE: FDX) charter flight from Cologne, Germany, arrived at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport carrying 110,000 pounds of Nestle infant formula, which can make about 1.6 million eight-ounce bottles. 

The Department of Health and Human Services said Secretary Xavier Becerra traveled to DFW to greet the Operation Fly Formula flight operated by FedEx.

The United Airlines jet delivered a smaller load to Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C.

The carrier is donating space on regularly scheduled passenger flights to carry 300,000 pounds of Kendamil infant formula from London Heathrow airport to various U.S. cities, including Dallas, over a 10-day period. The administration and the airline originally announced the operation would take three weeks but have now compressed the schedule. The United flight is scheduled to land a few hours after the one from FedEx, according to an HHS press advisory.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration, an HHS subagency, announced it is exercising enforcement discretion so Nestle can export additional baby formula into the U.S. The company will import both standard and specialty infant formulas, including Nestle NAN SupremePro 1, Nestle NAN SupremePro 2, Nestle Health Science Alfamino/Alfamino, Jr., Gerber Good Start Gentle and Gerber Good Start Extensive HA. Nestle plans to export about 41 million 8-ounce bottle equivalents into the U.S. market.

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 it’s inspection history. HHS is evaluating options for getting the product, which will be sold online at, to the U.S. as quickly as possible.

The White House on Monday said the Nestle products will be available across the country through the company’s distribution channels, with additional deliveries to be announced soon. 

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 combined Bubs Australia and Kendamil shipments have formula for 8.3 million standard bottles. 

Operation Fly Formula

President Joe Biden launched the airlift of formula from overseas three weeks ago to temporarily plug the gap in domestic production caused by supply chain disruptions and the three-month closure of Abbott Laboratories’ main facility in Sturgis, Michigan, because of unsanitary conditions and concerns over contamination. The departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture are coordinating with manufacturers to identify available overseas stocks that meet U.S. safety standards, while the Department of Defense is using existing contracts with the commercial sector to arrange air transport.

The first Operation Fly Formula missions involved  a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo jet that delivered a different brand of Nestlé formula from Germany to Indianapolis and a FedEx MD-11 that brought Nestle’s Gerber Good Start Extensive HA from Ramstein Air Base in Germany to Dulles airport outside Washington. The shipment was then trucked to Nestle’s distribution center in Pennsylvania.

The Defense Department used a military aircraft in the first instance because it couldn’t find an available commercial partner in time. HHS directly arranged the United flights without the DOD’s participation because there was no need to leverage a government contract.

The administration has worked furiously over the past month to alleviate the infant formula shortage after criticism it was slow to respond as parents increasingly faced empty retail shelves during the spring. 

In addition to setting up Operation Fly Formula, HHS Secretary Becerra invoked the Defense Production Act three times to ensure food distribution giant Cargill and formula makers Abbott Laboratories (NYSE: ABT) and Mead Johnson/Reckitt (OTCUS: RBYLY) get first-in-line treatment from suppliers for key ingredients. The FDA has also cut red tape so major formula manufacturers can import formulas currently not being produced for the U.S. market and worked with the Justice Department on a plan allowing Abbott to restart operations at the Sturgis plant if a lengthy list of conditions are met. Also, the Agriculture Department has implemented new guidance giving states and retailers more flexibility in how formula is sold to recipients of Women Infants and Children benefits.

Abbott said earlier this week that the Sturgis plant has reopened and deliveries will commence later this month. 

Some market research indicates stock-out levels remain high, but the White House says it has more reliable data showing improved formula availability. It acknowledges that specialty formulas can be extremely difficult to find. 

(Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the United flight was bound for Dallas. The correct location is Dulles, Virginia.)

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]