Air Cargo Space Will Be at a Premium with Holiday Season, Vaccine Distribution Imminent

“We’re planning for the mother of all peaks,” the president of FedEx’s express division said last month

If you’ve been seeing a lot more of those weird-looking planes with big foreheads and no windows at the airport, that’s because demand for airplane cargo space is sky-high.

It starts with vaccines 

According to the International Air Transportation Association (IATA), providing a single dose to the world’s 7.8 billion people would require 8,000 fully filled 747 cargo planes, which…is a problem considering there are fewer than one thousand 747 freighters on the planet, according to the IATA’s head of cargo Glyn Hughes.

Plus, vaccines are fragile. They don’t care much about legroom, but the majority of vaccines in development need to be kept at a constant, near-freezing temperature to prevent spoiling. UPS and Lufthansa have been building massive “freezer farms” to prepare, though experts in the pharma industry still expect up to a 20% spoilage rate. 

Santa might be late, too

The soon-to-be-released iPhones, Sony’s new PlayStation 5, and Amazon’s Prime Day items are all set to be shipped via cargo planes in the coming holiday shopping period. “We’re planning for the mother of all peaks,” the president of FedEx’s express division told investors in September.

  • Many commercial airlines have retrofitted aircraft to 1) meet cargo demand and 2) keep their businesses afloat during a period of historically low passenger traffic. 
  • Still, it was new territory for many legacy carriers. American Airlines was flying nearly 140 all-cargo trips per week early in the pandemic, after flying zero such trips in the past three decades. 

Bottom line: This isn’t the cargo industry’s first mile-high rodeo—shipping pharma products has been a fast-growing and profitable line of business for carriers over the past 10 years. But the busy holiday season + vaccine distribution + fewer flights will push it to the limit. 


Via Morning Brew

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