Pharma transport by air Growth with hiccups

For the last few years, pharma sector in the Indian air cargo industry has been on the path of growth. Airlines and airports have been coming up in a big way to tap this segment, however, there is still a need to focus on the ground realities when it comes to the adoption of right knowledge, training and handling of such critical products which demand quality and safety. Jasleen Kaur

According to Financial Express, an Indian English-language business newspaper, India is the largest exporter of generic formulations in volume globally. It exports vaccines to 150 countries and produces 40-70 per cent of the WHO demand for DPT (Diptheria, Tetanus) and BCG (tuberculosis) and 90 per cent of measles vaccines. India is home to more than 20,000 manufacturing units and over 6,000 pharma companies. India exports all forms of pharmaceuticals from APIs (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients) to formulations, both in modern medicine and traditional Indian medicines. Over the last 30 years, India’s pharma industry has evolved from almost non-existent to a world leader in the production of high quality generic drugs. India has garnered a worldwide reputation for producing high quality, low cost generic drugs.

Pharmaceutical air freight is set to grow far faster than even the most popular air cargo, consumer electronics. Over the next five years, pharmaceutical shipments will rise by as much as 12 per cent, leading the likes of carriers Air France and Lufthansa to open new facilities aimed at catering for this growing revenue source.

“The transport by air of perishables such as fruit, vegetables, fish and even pharmaceuticals increases on a yearly basis in line with consumers’ expectations and demand. India is an important emerging market. IATA sees a shift in consumer markets that will drive that future growth, and shift the epicenter of air cargo. The emergence and expansion of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa as major consumer markets will shift demand and lead to more balanced trade flows in the air cargo industry. We are already seeing this in China and to an extent in India. The growing middle classes in emerging economies are discerning high-end consumers who will continue to sustain air freight growth in the years to come,” says Tony Tyler, Director General and CEO, IATA.
The pharmaceutical industry is becoming increasingly diverse fuelled by ageing populations, emerging markets with their growing middle classes, along with innovative technological platforms. It is estimated that by 2016 more than half of the top 50 best-selling drugs will require cold chain transportation, according to the Bio-pharma Cold Chain Sourcebook 2013.

Indian airports are waking up to the growing share of cargo in shoring up their bottom lines. Hence, they are stepping up their cargo activities to focus on different segments and one such area is perishable goods. Delhi airport is aimed at becoming a cargo hub. Celebi, a cargo handling company, has majorly contributed in enhancing cargo operations at Delhi airport. It runs a perishable centre in the terminal. This was the old centre which was created by the Airports Authority of India and then it came to Celebi to lead the operations. The company decided to run the same perishable centre for some time before renovating it two years back. Then after a year, Celebi divided the perishable business in two parts – one is for stuff like vegetables and the other one is for pharma.

Ramesh Mamidala, CEO, Celebi Delhi Cargo Terminal Management, shares, “Celebi has invested $2 million dollars in setting up this facility, which caters to about 200 tonnes a day to the pharma business. It is world-class facility with different chambers subject to temperature zones. Temperature ranges from 15 degrees to minus 20 degrees. Not only this, but to complete the entire cool chain up to the aircraft, we have invested in the product called ‘cool dolly’, where a dolly has been converted into a cool chamber where two containers or a palette can be transferred from our facility up to the aircraft by maintaining the same temperature as required.”

Similarly, Hyderabad airport which boasts of a world-class cargo terminal is beefing up cargo throughput, especially pharmaceuticals, and aims to generate more than 20 percent of its revenues from cargo. Hemanth D P, Chief Operating Officer- GMR Hyderabad International Airport, said, “To support the growing local industry which now has strong global footprints, we as business enablers need to extend efficient temperature controlled care while handling pharmaceutical products. This first-of-its-kind facility was commissioned with truck dock to airside temperature controlled facility to maintain cool chain integrity at global standards.”

Sanjiv Edward, Head of Cargo Business, Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL), shares, “We have an added advantage of having two pharma zones in Delhi. Both operators – Celebi and DCSC (Delhi Cargo Service Center) – have pharma zones, providing specialized facilities. Pharma is one of the sectors which we are focusing on. We have seen growth in perishable business. Fruits and vegetables business is growing pretty well. In the transhipment business, new lanes have been opened. Our pharmaceutical business is growing at about 17 percent.”

Last year, Menzies Aviation Bobba opened a pharma cold zone for the handling of pharma products at Bangalore airport. “The temperature controlled cargo handling facility is assisting to the pharma companies based in South India in enhancing their business and meeting the stringent requirements of global regulatory authorities. The key objective to set up a dedicated facility is that the city is emerging as an important pharmaceutical hub in South India. This facility has strengthened our leadership and capability in handling and transportation of pharma cargo between Bangalore and rest of the world. We look forward to such more initiatives especially in the pharma sector, where the entire air cargo fraternity is trying their hands. It is the prime focus of each and everyone in the industry,” explains Venkata Reddy, CEO, Menzies Aviation Bobba.

Seeing the potential, many other airlines have also shown interest in the pharma sector. Air France-KLM Cargo has reinforced its commitment to the pharmaceuticals and healthcare industry by introducing a new scheduled belly cargo service to Brazil and increasing freighter capacity out of Mumbai. Even the national carrier Air India is in the race to tap the pharma market. “Air India has been in forefront in promoting specific commodity movement and pharma is one of the focus areas. We are in touch with leading pharma companies to offer our services in a cost effective manner. We are also planning to offer specific incentive to the end-user and shortly we will announce our schemes,” Sanjiv Kumar, former executive director (cargo) for Air India told ACAAI News just before he retired.

However, to reap the benefits of the mushrooming industry, transporting healthcare products by air needs the establishment of complex logistical methods to maintain shipment’s integrity. It requires specific equipment, storage facilities, harmonized handling procedures and, above all, strong cooperation among the cold chain partners. The picking and packing is done by 3PL at the warehouse and then it is handed over to transport service provider, generally through air-courier.

Manoj Soni, a veteran from the pharma sector who has worked with Jubilant Life Sciences also, says “Service providers should understand the product well i.e. the knowledge of pharmaceutical product’s efficacy relationship with time and temperature. They must have good connectivity through air carriers. They should handle our product at the airport or at their hubs only in requisite temperature zones.”

Lack of accurate logistical knowledge of the study sites and poor knowledge of the medical sites, can be a hurdle in the logistics of pharma. Therefore, there is a need to concentrate on specialised team. Training is required at the ground level to make sure that the handling of pharmaceutical goods is as per quality norms.

Though the pharma sector has been gaining momentum and many airlines and airports have been coming up in a big way to tap the market for pharma transportation, there is a dire need to first put focus on the ground realities of right training, knowledge of the products, to acquire the right benefits.