Airfreight and the vaccine

Airfreight wait’s all year for a vaccine and then two come along at once. Well that’s what the media would have us believe. The truth is we are a little way off salvation yet. If you follow the FTSE you would see that shares in airlines are rising. IAG, the owner of British Airways is up 10% today ( 16th November ). In fact all the firms impacted hardest in the UK by lockdown have been those which have seen the largest recovery. Is that good news for airfreight.

UK orders 5m doses of Moderna vaccine

Big numbers and a large logistical challenge to move 5m doses on top of the order for Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine. But not all will move at the same time and with the Pfizer vaccine needing special equipment it will likely not be moved on standard cargo aircraft. What airfreight is hoping for is that the immunisation program can begin so that passengers can return to the skies. The stark reality though is that for airfreight this will be a slow recovery.

What has already been confirmed is that those most at risk, the vulnerable will be the first to be immunised. By the very nature the at risk category are unlikely to be those who would normally fill the seats of business class. These are the seats that the vaccine needs to fill to help airfreight. The shoots of recovery for airfreight lies with having paying passengers on board flights. Without it rates will remain close to maindeck carrier levels which will help push airfreight onto LCL services worldwide.

Airfreight vaccine movement

This latest vaccine my Moderna seems to good to be true. Easily transportable and well within normal airfreight Pharma limits. It does not yet have regulatory approval and still has some hoops to jump through. For the UK the government are advising that they anticipate the first 5 million doses by Spring. That means possibly that by spring 2.5 million of the oldest or most vulnerable could have been immunised. Is this enough to get people booking holidays in time for summer next year and if so will that be when we really begin to see signs of a recovery.

If so then airfreight still has a tough six to nine months ahead of it. Airlines have started switching their aircraft to accommodate more cargo and have grounded their larger A380’s. Many in the airfreight industry may not view that as a bad thing. Especially if airlines when passengers return switch their focus to aircraft with smaller passenger numbers. Possibly with a better passenger/cargo ratio.

One thing is for sure. If we think we are out of the woods it could be a while before the sense of disappointment lifts. We are getting closer but it could easily be another year before we start to see a meaningful number of vaccine doses moved by airfreight to help passengers return.

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