Brussels Airport - Cool customers

Navigating the supply chain while ensuring temperature deviation is kept to a minimum has always been a challenge, and stakeholders are always on the lookout for new ways to guarantee the safety of goods in transit. Nathan de Valck, cargo key account manager at Brussels Airport, explains what's being done to shore up the confidence and trust of its shipping partners.

The fragmented nature of the air freight supply chain has long posed problems for the transport of pharmaceuticals, particularly those sensitive to mild changes in temperature. With so many stakeholders and handovers involved, pharmaceutical shippers are looking for partners able to guarantee a reliable, unbroken cool chain, from origin to destination.

Located in the middle of one of Europe's strongest pharmaceutical clusters, Brussels Airport is well positioned as a gateway for life science products and its focus over the past few years has been on improving its cool chain and pharmaceuticals handling. Alongside the Cool Chain Association (CCA) and the IATA Time and Temperature Task Force (IATA TTTF), it has worked towards standardisation and promoting compliance with regulations and international standards across the air cargo industry.

"Pharma shippers are demanding a better service when shipping their sensitive goods via air freight," says Nathan de Valck, cargo key account manager at Brussels Airport. "Shippers want to see compliance, standardisation, accountability and transparency across the supply chain. They want the confidence that facilities are adequately equipped and operated by properly trained people who are familiar with the latest regulations, standards and best practices. They want global certification, and a common audit format to maximise efficiency."

Question of trust

As everyone involved in the supply chain strives for good distribution practices, more and more are turning to those that specialise in handling life science shipments. Those that don't are more susceptible to temperature deviations and are losing the confidence and trust of their partners.

"We're working with industry players to find a way to monitor and control airside temperatures," says de Valck. "The project - together with handlers, forwarders and shippers - will set up a pool of temperature-controlled dollies at the airport. These will have real-time temperature monitoring and, via our cloud-based cargo community system, will give direct information to those involved in the transport. The first objective is to test the system, the dollies and the temperature ranges it can meet. By the end of this year, a complete mapping system will be implemented at a larger scale for all users."

In 2014, Brussels Airport launched its BRUcargo pharma certification programme with the aim of upgrading handling processes, and training industry stakeholders throughout the cool chain. It has helped further establish its status as one of the most reliable European gateways for life science goods.

"The only way to guarantee a reliable cool chain from origin to destination is to standardise and align the processes of every stakeholder involved," says de Valck. "BRUcargo's cargo community specialises in the handling of time and temperature sensitive goods. Investments by our community members in GDP-licensed (or compliant) pharma warehouses have continued over the past few years, resulting in the biggest concentration of temperature-controlled airport facilities in Europe.

Chain reaction

"Brussels Airport stands out internationally for its dedicated infrastructure for the transport and handling of products that require an unbroken cold chain, in particular pharmaceutical and biotech products," he continues. "It's the first airport in the world where stakeholders of the cargo community in a joint approach will receive the CEIV Pharma certification.

Currently, 11 companies are participating in the programme, eight of which already have the certificate, with the others soon to follow. A new group of nine BRUcargo-based partners will join the scheme in 2015 and, as a result, the majority of pharmaceutical volumes handled throughout Brussels Airport will go through this certified cold chain, unique in the world.

With the initial rollout yielding positive results, de Valck believes the next stage is to articulate its benefits to clients. "Speed is the biggest advantage of air cargo. However, pharma shippers also expect a reliable and transparent service for the higher price they are paying, compared with other international modes of transport. It is up to the air cargo industry to prove that we are up to the challenge."

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Air freight’s biggest asset is speed: the challenge is to prove that it is also a safe, reliable a transparent part of the pharmaceuticals supply chain.
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