- The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed the first distribution flight of the coronavirus vaccine took off Friday, according to an emailed statement from the agency dated last Friday.
- The FAA said it supported the first flight and created the "FAA COVID-19 Vaccine Air Transport Team" in October, but didn't provide details on what the team is doing beyond saying it was assisting in the safe and efficient transport of the vaccine.
- United Airlines began shuttling doses of the Pfizer vaccine on charter flights on Friday, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited "people familiar with the matter." United Airlines did not immediately respond to a request to comment.
Air cargo will play a vital role in the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine, and cargo professionals at airports around the country have been working to prepare for the vaccine.
Pfizer told Supply Chain Dive this month that its distribution will rely on 20 flights taking off daily around the world. The manufacturer plans to make 50 million doses of the vaccine available this year if it is granted approval.
DHL, one of the logistics companies involved in the Pfizer vaccine distribution, has been working with its partners to determine the capacity requirements, Larry St Onge, the president for the global sector life sciences and healthcare at DHL, said prior to the FAA announcement.
"The capacity, I believe, will be there," St Onge said.
The pandemic grounded several passenger planes, but those planes could be used for cargo and flown without passengers if capacity becomes an issue, he said.
Emir Pineda, the manager of aviation trade and logistics at Miami International Airport, said the facility has been working to get a fuller account of its cold storage infrastructure and how much of it is available for use with pharmaceuticals.
The airport started to assess its inventory, "to really map out what kind of facilities do we have that can contribute to the distribution of the COVID vaccine," Pineda said.
American Airlines announced Monday it has been conducting trial flights between Miami and South America to prepare for the approval of a vaccine. American Airlines will be able to track the shipments as a result of IT upgrades it made last year, it said.
"The trial flights stimulate 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," the airline said.
The FAA also said it was working with manufacturers, air carriers and airports to provide guidance on transporting large quantities of dry ice. Dry ice releases carbon dioxide gas, which limits the amount that can be carried on a plane.
Pfizer has designed a box for its vaccine that allows it to be transported at minus 70 degrees Celsius (plus or minus 10 degrees Celsius) for up to 10 days. It allows for the vaccine to be stored in the box and refilled with dry ice as needed.
UPS said last week it was increasing its dry ice production capacity to 1,200 pounds per hour in the U.S. and Canada.