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Air cargo players should accelerate collaboration efforts to grow pharmaceutical volumes, delegates heard at last week’s Air Cargo China event in Shanghai.

However, major airlines are divided on the benefits of joining cross-industry collaboration groups such as Pharma.Aero.

“Some pharma shippers are still concerned with using air cargo, with 90% of temperature excursions taking place in the airport environment,” explained Jaisey Yip, ‎Changi Airport’s associate general manager for cargo and logistics.

“The air freight industry is very fragmented, with many players and stakeholders working in silos, so there’s a lack of collaboration. For pharma shippers to be more comfortable using air freight we need to give them more visibility, and I think collaboration across the whole supply chain is key,” she added.



Changi Airport is a member of Pharma.Aero and recently launched local collaboration group Pharma@Changi, which aims to further the airport’s pharma handling capabilities by jointly pursuing best practices with airlines, forwarders and ground handlers.

Fellow Pharma.Aero-member airports Brussels and Miami also claim collaboration is key to improving service levels.

“A few years ago we were losing some ground to pharma shipped by ocean freight,” noted Jimmy Nares, section chief of aviation marketing at Miami-Dade.

“That was a wakeup call to many of us who decided we want to improve the process of shipping pharma by air and the only way to do that was to work together.

“It’s a requirement for Pharma.Aero members to have CEIV or be working towards it. We’re taking that expertise and knowledge to the next level through collaboration and being actively involved in projects with pharma shippers themselves.”

Steven Polmans, head of cargo and logistics at Brussels Airport, added: “The ultimate goal of these cooperations is to ‘grow the cake’ – it’s much easier in the short-term to start competing for business, but if we devote a bit of our time to more strategic activities, even if we don’t get direct payback, then there will be more [business] to fight for in the end.”

However, executives from Swiss WorldCargo and Qatar Airways Cargo were unconvinced about Pharma.Aero and similar cooperation initiatives.

“I could be provocative and say we’ve been extremely successful without them,” said David Beecham, senior manager cargo products for Qatar Airways Cargo.

He said that, after initially “sitting on the fence” to see which pharma initiatives would gain a foothold, Qatar Airways Cargo was now convinced IATA’s CEIV certification had raised handling standards, adding that the carrier would become CEIV-certified later this year.

‎Swiss WorldCargo head of business development Andrés Perez said he would be reluctant to join an initiative that included competing airlines.

“For us, it’s a different perspective, because with airports which are not competing geographically, it’s fine for them to partner-up to ship goods, for example, from Singapore via Brussels to Miami. But I don’t want to partner with other airlines, because they’re my competitors and can fulfil the same lanes I can.

“For me, it’s important to have a competitive advantage, and with CEIV it’s an industry standard, but if Pharma.Aero is something for everybody to join, then I don’t think it’s something for me.”

Turkish Cargo special cargo manager Abdullah Bahadir Büyükkaymaz disagreed: “We’re part of the Pharma Gateway community in Amsterdam, which includes our competitor KLM. So we’re doing something together there and we learn from each other,” he noted, adding that Turkish Cargo is considering joining Pharma.Aero.

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