The American Airlines Cargo team is preparing for its critical role in transporting the coronavirus vaccine once approved. In mid-November, American’s cargo operation began conducting trial flights, in conjunction with pharmaceutical and cargo partners, from Miami to South America on its Boeing 777-200 aircraft.
The trial flights simulate the conditions required for the COVID-19 vaccine to stress test the thermal packaging and operational handling process that will ultimately ensure it remains stable as it moves across the globe.
While the situation will be unique, the task is not new to American — the airline’s cargo operation has been shipping life-saving medicine for more than eight decades. Since the beginning of the pandemic, American has been transporting hundreds of thousands of pounds of personal protective equipment (PPE), medical equipment, COVID-19 test kits and pharmaceuticals to help battle the coronavirus.
As a recognized expert in cold chain logistics, American has been involved in transporting components for Phase III COVID-19 vaccine trials, including quickly and safely carrying test vaccines and specimens to research facilities around the world.
“A COVID vaccine is essential for everyone’s health and well-being and for our nation’s recovery.” said Jessica Tyler, president, American Airlines Cargo. “The American Airlines team is working collaboratively with cargo, pharmaceutical and federal partners so we are ready to safely and quickly transport an approved vaccine. Despite the significant challenges the airline industry is facing, we’re working night and day to put our greatest strengths to use during this time of need — our network, our aircraft and our incredible team.”
Many vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine, need special handling to keep a consistently cold temperature throughout their journey. American has an established network of facilities and team members who specialize in temperature-critical shipments and are familiar with handling the variety of requirements that different pharmaceuticals may need.
Vaccine shipments can be sent in “active containers” with built-in temperature controls that regulate and monitor shipments during transport, or “passive containers” that are cooled with cold packs or dry ice in an enclosed system designed to keep the product cold for the life of its journey.
American’s global network of temperature-controlled facilities provide a variety of climate types for short-term pharmaceutical storage and expert handling while the vaccines are in the airline’s care. From the time a shipment arrives at the airline’s facility, it is tracked throughout its journey on the ground and from American’s Cargo Control Center, located within the airline’s Integrated Operations Control in Fort Worth.