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US hires cargo airline for international transport of vaccine supplies

ATSG subsidiary supports Operation Warp Speed

Air Transport International, the contract air cargo carrier that operates aircraft for customers such as Amazon Air and DHL Express, has received a $7.7 million order for transportation services in support of the national vaccine campaign known as Operation Warp Speed.

ATI will transport kitting materials — alcohol swabs, syringes, needles, saline solution, personal protective equipment — to multiple destinations through early March, Defense officials said in response to FreightWaves’ queries.

The company, a subsidiary of Air Transport Services Group (NASDQ: ATSG), was assigned the task under an existing contract with U.S. Transportation Command, according to a Defense Department contract announcement this month. 

The mini-contract refers to international cargo transport and door-to-door service, which suggests ATI is flying exports of supplies from overseas locations to U.S. airports and trucking them to distribution centers managed by vaccine makers and the government’s third-party logistics provider, McKesson Corp. (NYSE: MCK)

Under the existing distribution strategy, Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) is shipping vaccines directly to dosing sites while UPS (NYSE: UPS) separately delivers kits put together by McKesson. For Moderna, McKesson packs the vaccines and supplies for administering them together in the same box.

Officials at ATSG, based in Wilmington, Ohio, were unable to provide further details when contacted.

The task order bears similarities to Project Airbridge earlier this year in which the federal government contracted commercial charter operators to expedite the import of personal protective equipment, ventilators and other supplies urgently needed to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

Air Transport International participates in the Department of Defense’s Civil Reserve Air Fleet. Under the program, commercial carriers commit to provide airlift during war and other national emergencies in exchange for peacetime charter business that augments the military’s own airlift capacity for personnel and cargo.

ATSG and ATI have benefitted from a strong cargo market this year, with adjusted corporate earnings up 48% in the third quarter.

Click here for more FreightWaves and 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