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Each stakeholder in the air cargo pharmaceutical supply chain should work collaboratively to create an integrated product, the Life Science and Pharmaceutical conference in London concluded yesterday.

In an open, honest, and at times impassioned debate, expertly moderated by Tony Wright, chief executive of Exelsius Cold Chain Management, delegates worked through the challenges – most of which lay at the airport.

“It is crucial that each participant in the supply chain works together,” urged Tom Grubb, manager of cold chain strategy for American Airlines Cargo. “Representatives from all segments should work together and clearly delineate their roles and responsibilities.”

Mr Grubb called for tripartite talks – and said that the era of forwarders having worries about shippers talking to carriers should be over. “I want our forwarder partners to understand that I have no interest in their commercial agreements with their customers. But I want them to understand our operational processes and whether the manufacturers’ requirements can be met by us. I don’t want to over-promise – I want to meet the demands of the buyer.”

AA Cargo, which has invested significantly in its pharma product, had practiced ‘mock shipments’, in which each stakeholder “was in alignment before the first shipment had moved”.

Reinier Danckaarts, Europe air competence director pharma for Kuehne + Nagel, agreed: “We think tripartite talks create benefits for everyone – in fact, it makes our lives so much easier.”

While it was acknowledged that many airports, handlers and airlines had significantly improved their pharmaceutical service, notably GDP [good distribution practice]-certified companies such as Brussels Airport, Luxembourg Airport and Cargolux, there were still some references to the airport “black hole” – a term clearly disliked by some participants.

While one shipper noted that it was now able to collect data showing where problems and excursions were committed, one major handler said: “If I am the black hole – as I keep hearing – the shipper needs to share that data with me. I stand a chance of fixing it if I know where the black hole is.”

There was also much discussion on certification, such as IATA’s CEIV Pharma, and the EU’s GDP guidelines. Brussels Airport and its community, including airlines, handlers, forwarders and truckers, launched the pilot project with IATA to become the first CEIV Pharma-certified airport community in November, while forwarder UTi Worldwide announced its certification today.

“We asked shippers how they felt about it – and we now have the six biggest pharma shippers in Belgium,” explained Steven Polmans, head of cargo for the airport.

Mark Edwards, chief executive of Dnata Singapore, which last year opened a new cold chain facility, said the company had worked out that GDP accreditation would take six to nine months to achieve and cost about $76,000, but would make a positive difference in terms of attracting customers – he also recounted that one ‘local’ carrier, which carried a lot of perishables, had not wanted to pay the additional cost to use Dnata’s new facility, leaving shipments instead to “sit around” on the tarmac.

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol had looked into creating a state-of-the-art, GDP common-user facility for the cold chain, but found its stakeholders had not wanted to participate as they saw GDP as a competitive advantage.

Shippers at the event noted that while they would prefer a GDP facility, or one with some certification, those tended to be European or North American companies. However, they noted that the other areas of the world were being left behind, but were still part of the global supply chain nonetheless.

“You can be as good as you like in Europe, but as soon as a shipment gets to somewhere in Asia it can lost anyway,” one delegate said.

“We need to make it our mission to develop awareness in other countries,” said Serge Alezier, consultant for PharmaHIT, in the closing remarks. Other delegates concluded: “Let’s make an integrated business, like the integrators do.”

The final takeaway – an agreement after much debate – was: “We all just want to add value for the shippers.”


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