The quicker the better – air freight and temperature control

3 April 2017



How can pharma companies work with airlines, airports and suppliers to take advantage of the speed and convenience of air freight, while remaining compliant with global temperature control requirements? Glyn Hughes, global head of cargo at the International Air Transport Association, speaks to Andrew Putwain.


Glyn Hughes says providing quality services in a harmonised and globally consistent manner is what drives air cargo partnerships. “Patient safety is a shared objective, and air cargo stakeholders, including airlines, freight forwarders, ground handlers and truckers, share in the successful attainment of that objective,” explains the air industry veteran. “Inconsistent regulatory requirements, complex and global supply chains, and unstructured risk assessment methodology are three critical challenges that partners have come together in order to address, especially the number of shipment failures due to temperature excursions.”

The International trasnport Association (IATA) takes cold chain very seriously. According to its website, “With the pharmaceutical industry moving cargo worth over $1 trillion every year, upholding a shipment’s quality requires specific equipment, storage facilities, harmonised handling procedures and, above all, strong cooperation among the cold chain partners.”

While IATA looks after the regulation and management, it’s up to the links in the pharma supply chain to ensure that the temperature-sensitive treatments arrive on time and in perfect condition to guarantee patient safety.

A lofty goal

Glyn Hughes has been part of the air cargo community since 1985, when he joined the UK airline, British Caledonian (BCAL). After a career that took in several subsequent employers, he joined IATA in 1991.

“When I joined IATA, it was initially to work on the cargo account settlement system (CASS) in the UK,” he says. Over quarter of a century later, he considers it his privilege to lead IATA’s cargo department, with its “broad remit in supporting the air cargo industry with standards, solutions and advocacy programmes covering the entire supply chain”.

He has many thoughts on the issues and challenges facing the air industry in the way it works with pharma companies, especially in terms of regulation and logistics.

“IATA has developed a programme called CEIV Pharma [the Center of Excellence for Independent Validators in Pharmaceutical Logistics], which aims to certify compliance to globally agreed standards through a process of independent validation,” he explains. “It aims to enhance this programme through regular dialogue with pharmaceutical shippers to ensure their needs are fully integrated.”

The benefits brought

Speed is central to achieving these goals. Air is much quicker than alternatives such as sea, which makes it easier to ensure that cold-chain products are transported at the correct temperatures. Rising costs make this increasingly critical.

“Pharmaceutical products tend to be high value and in demand from patients, so tying up that value in inventory costs during lengthy ocean crossings doesn’t always make economic sense,” says Hughes. “The air cargo community is committed to safe, secure, efficient and reliable services centred on the needs of pharma shippers, and as an industry, we are committed to constantly improving the level of service provided.”

He believes the speed and quality of service are the primary benefits of air cargo, and in addition to the CEIV Pharma programme, the industry has pursued several schemes and ideas in recent years to keep it as competitive as possible.

The air cargo community is committed to safe, secure, efficient and reliable services centred on the needs of pharma shippers, and as an industry, we are committed to constantly improving the level of service provided.

“Pharma Aero is a recent initiative by a number of Airports, including Brussels and Miami International, designed to link CEIV Pharma parties on certified trade lanes,” Hughes explains. “As well as these community approaches, a great number of carriers, freight forwarders and ground handlers have invested heavily in active temperature-control technology and cool facilities to provide optimal environments for pharma products.” All of these programmes build on air freight’s advantage of speed.

Keep your cool

Temperature-sensitive goods in pharma logistics represent a huge, complicated issue, so however the air industry improves transportation for these goods, more can always be done.

Because of this, IATA has developed a number of required standards as a result of work undertaken by IATA’s time and temperature task force (TTTF), which addressed how to manage temperature-control.

“Recent initiatives have included IATA’s time and temperature-sensitive label and the rollout of the handling acceptance checklist,” Hughes says.” All standards are included in the CEIV Pharma, which is an example of air cargo’s commitment to certify the high-quality transportation of critical commodities and to address the concerns identified in the supply, especially those of pharmaceutical shippers,” he continues.

Hughes is careful in describing where mistakes are made: “The issues for temperature spikes and noncompliance are multiple, and down to different stakeholders in the supply chain. However, there is now, a greater understanding that the responsibility for eliminating temperature excursion is shared across the supply chain.

“Stakeholders work together to ensure appropriate packaging is used upfront by shippers, and the correct booking is made at point of origin. These actions have helped mitigate the potential risk of temperature excursions throughout the journey.”

There are easy – but often overlooked – solutions, particularly things like handling errors, training, regulatory and compliance procedures. Even though the issues affect different stakeholders in the supply chain, many companies involved in the transport of temperature-sensitive products have invested in processes, procedures, systems, infrastructure and/or people to ensure the efficacy of their service. This has helped, Hughes believes, to grow trust and confidence in the air freight industry.

What can pharma do?

Reflecting on the changes that the airline industry could make for a more harmonious relationship with pharma, Hughes suggests that there is still a lack of awareness from all parties in understanding how each segment within the supply chain fits together.

Therefore, pharmaceutical shippers are encouraged to involve airlines and freight forwarders in shipping discussions in order to understand the possibilities and constraints encountered at airports.

“Tripartite agreement,” he says, “can help mitigate risks in the transportation chain. This is crucial to continuously improving visibility and transparency across the cargo supply chain. Increased communication between stakeholders has meant that there is now a better understanding of the concerns of shippers. This has led to improvements in avoiding temperature excursions. Today, while these excursions still occur, there is a common understanding that roles and responsibilities towards eliminating this are shared.”

Hughes recommends more communication, better preparation and monitoring, and a change in staff culture and training. “Stakeholders must work together to ensure appropriate packaging is used up front, and the correct booking is made at point of origin.”

These actions, he argues, have helped, and will continue to help, mitigate the potential risk of temperature excursions.

Best foot forward

It is absolutely crucial that pharma companies follow a forward planning strategy when embarking on a new relationship with an airline or cargo partner. These steps are designed to filter out any teething problems; both parties should look at things from each other’s perspective in order to find mutually beneficial elements.

It is critical that supply chain stakeholders involved in the transport of time and temperature-sensitive products have a more collaborative approach. This helps clarify expectations, and minimise the risks and challenges for air freight within the cool chain.

“It is critical that supply chain stakeholders involved in the transport of time and temperature-sensitive products have a more collaborative approach,” Hughes concludes. “This helps clarify expectations, and minimise the risks and challenges for air freight within the cool chain.

“The pharmaceutical industry relies heavily on air cargo for its speed and efficiency. Improving industry logistical networks to achieve excellence in both time and temperature supply chain management requires transparency and cooperation amongst all partners. This ultimately provides the high-quality services customers demand.”

Hopefully, better discussion among everyone involved will enable the air cargo and pharmaceutical industries to work together to use speed as the starting point for a safer and more efficient supply chain.

Glyn Hughes has been involved in air cargo for over 30 years, starting his career with British Caledonian. He went on to work at several other airlines before joining IATA in 1991. He became global head of cargo in 2014.
Air freight’s speed makes eliminating temperature excursions easier.
Airline, pharma firms and freight forwarders must work together as one.


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