On Tuesday, Britain became the first country to begin vaccinating citizens against COVID-19. In true English fashion with a perverse sense of humor, after a 90-year old grandmother, the second recipient was 81-year old William Shakespeare. No, we’re not making this up.
Shippers in the United States, already reeling from port congestion that has vessels at anchor waiting weeks to berth and inland rail movements languishing equally as long, are looking to air cargo as an alternative mode of transport. While undoubtedly the costliest choice, companies have been left with few other options to expedite long overdue cargo to factories trying to maintain production in such JIT supply chains as automotive, aerospace and other high-tech sectors.
Will air cargo be sidelined for the vaccine?
At Mach 1, we have a robust charter operation available for the most critical situations, but try to focus on more economical scheduled air cargo service utilizing passenger and all cargo airlines. A number of clients have asked us for our advice on whether or not the already constrained air cargo inventory driven by the reduced number of flights will be further sidelined by vaccine shipments after FDA approval.
We have spoken to trade industry leaders, airline cargo representatives and read trade press and general reporting and our take is air cargo space will remain available for expedited cargo.
Integrator networks used for vaccine distribution
The vaccines are utilizing two primary channels. For movement between production sites and centralized storage in large freezer farms, chartered aircraft from airlines like United Airlines are moving the vaccine between Brussels and Chicago. Because the Pfizer vaccine requires extremely low temperatures, Pfizer developed customized packaging and each box requires a tremendous amount of dry ice. While not a concern on the ground, dry ice creates carbon dioxide as it warms and could pose a risk in the air. The FAA granted passenger carriers like United, American and Delta the ability to carry more dry ice than normally allowed because there are no other passengers or animals on their so-called “pfreighters”.
From distribution centers to the final mile, vaccine distribution is being handled primarily by FedEx and UPS, utilizing their express network and fleets of planes, trucks and drivers to reach hospitals, clinics and other key distribution points for injection. UPS is operating freezers and making their own dry ice in preparation for the task ahead.
Domestic air freight right now is competing for space against the Postal Service, e-Commerce small package overflow from integrators, perishable and other pharmaceutical shipments that still need to move.
Mach 1 Alternatives to expedited Air Cargo
Thankfully, shippers don’t need to look exclusively skyward for viable solutions and alternatives. Time critical and expedited shipments is Mach 1’s closed loop linehaul network that provides dedicated, fixed day truck transport between key gateways and consignees.
Supporting this dedicated linehaul network are dedicated and hotshot drivers and equipment that are available nationwide and can be in position to move those shipments in a matter of hours.
The constrained capacity that shippers have experienced through 2020 will not be going away anytime soon. Some conservative forecasts see ocean freight congestion through March, 2021. Pre-pandemic belly freight availability will remain limited until airlines see an uptick in passengers. Travelers will not return until enough people are vaccinated and they feel safe traveling in an enclosed space.
Until this time, we encourage our customers to continue to work closely with their Mach 1 representatives to ensure we can plan ahead to the best of our ability and ensure cargo gets to where it needs to be on time. For more information on Mach 1’s alternatives to expedited air cargo , contact our Mach 1 team today by calling (800) 553-7774 or get a quote by clicking HERE.
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