Air Cargo, Contributing to Cure
While it is well-known that aircraft facilitated the more rapid spread of the virus around the globe, aircraft will also play an essential role in delivering the cure. Over 10 billion doses have been pre-ordered to vaccinate a global population of 7.8 billion. The weight of all the doses equates to 65,000 metric tons. IATA has estimated that approximately one-million doses will fit on a B-777F. This would translate to at least 10,000 flights to just deliver the vaccine -assuming that all vaccines will be transported by air, which will not be the case. In reality, this will still equate to thousands of flights since many of the aircraft used will be smaller and additional flights will be needed to provide medical supplies to support the vaccination effort (i.e. syringes, gauze, alcohol swabs, etc.).
There are various forms of the vaccine made by many different companies (AstraZeneca, BioNTech, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna, Novavax, Pfizer, and Sanofi, to name a few) and each has different requirements. Some, such as Moderna and BioNTech, require specialized cold storage. All vaccines will be a security concern since they are so valuable, requiring air cargo carriers to increase their vigilance. In places with increased air cargo demand like the U.S., this adds additional pressure to carriers requiring them to increase their capacity where possible but to more importantly manage demand.
Challenges & Opportunities
The capacity of the air cargo system in the U.S. prior to the pandemic was constrained. Air cargo carriers responded to the surge in demand driven by the crisis by hiring new employees. For example, to respond to a 21% surge in package volume in the second quarter of 2020, UPS hired 39,000 additional employees. The firm also hired 100,000 additional temporary employees during the holidays and will convert nearly 35% of these new hires to full-time status. However, it is not practical to always increase the capacity to fully respond to potentially short-term surges in demand. UPS and other carriers have also enacted measures to manage demand, some of these actions include:
- Shifting volume to less congested days, fully utilizing weekends and off-peak time of the day
- Imposing surcharges for home deliveries to deter low yield volume
- Placing shipping limits on large