Qatar Airways Cargo has invested considerably in quality handling, infrastructure, facilities, people and procedures at each of its pharma stations, which span over 77 destinations, with the recent addition of Osaka, Japan; Campinas, Brazil; Santiago, Chile; and Bogotá, Colombia. The cargo carrier ensures the fastest transfer at Doha through its unique Quick Ramp Transfer (QRT). Besides, it is the only carrier in the Middle East to offer refrigerated or ‘reefer’ truck services for ramp transfers at the home hub. Most recently, Qatar Airways Cargo signed an agreement with SkyCell for temperature-controlled hybrid containers. These will allow the world’s largest cargo carrier to expand its variety of transportation solutions and offer additional pharmaceuticals and healthcare cargo services. Guillaume Halleux, Chief Officer- Cargo at Qatar Airways, in an interview with Ritika Arora Bhola, reveals more about their strategy in preparation to support logistics processes globally when a COVID-19 vaccine will be rolled out.

Considering the rising awareness and ever-evolving circumstances, how is Qatar Airways Cargo equipping itself for the ‘mission of the century’?

There are a lot of lessons learnt in the past few months. We are applying those lessons, gathering market data, and customer requirements/feedback to work on our vaccine distribution plan. We are also in close contact with our customers and suppliers (active/passive container suppliers, ground handling agents, and trucking partners) whose contribution is important in preparing the readiness plan. In addition to our scheduled flights, we are also able to provide bespoke charter arrangements at short notice to destinations not part of our scheduled services. At the hub, we are investing in expansion of our reefer trucks and hybrid containers. We recently signed a contract with SkyCell for hybrid containers.

The safe transport of the global COVID-19 vaccines is going to be the largest and complex challenge ever. Nonetheless, with all these investments and preparations, we are enhancing our product offering and gearing up to support the logistics requirements around the global vaccination plan.

Elaborate on the top-notch infrastructure, facilities and products designed especially to support storage and transport of temp-sensitive products at Doha Airport and across the airline’s network.

Through QR Pharma, we offer our customers temperature-controlled air freight for pharmaceuticals and healthcare products, with both active and passive solutions in cold chain logistics. A range of temperature-controlled containers from various partners like Envirotainer, CSafe, DoKaSch, Va-Q-Tec, and most recently, hybrid containers from SkyCell have been made available for our pharma clients.

We have set robust pharma standards and operating procedures at our hub as well as other stations while also providing rigourous training to our staff. The Hamad International Airport (HIA) cargo terminal operates in accordance with the highest industry standards and is fully compliant with good distribution practice (GDP), providing a seamless cool chain for temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals.

We have also invested in an airside Climate Control Centre at HIA which was inaugurated around the time of the blockade. The 2,470 sq mt transit facility with storage capacity of 156 ULDs and dual-zoned temperature-controlled rooms enhances our ability to process high volumes of pharmaceuticals quickly, within a climate-controlled environment. It has an estimated throughput capacity of 285,000 tonnes annually. In addition, there are 64 temperature-controlled cells within the cargo terminal’s cold room in the warehouse.

Additonally, a vast fleet of temperature-controlled reefer trucks at our hub helps to eliminate ramp exposure.

Was the crisis a wakeup call as it exposed the weak links in the global pharma supply chain? What are your suggestions to overcome those?

COVID-19 has exposed a number of vulnerabilities and weak links in the pharma supply chain. Operational and geopolitical risks further add to this. These challenges can be overcome with strong SOPs, quality management systemsm and risk assessments that will lead to smart and agile supply chains supported by smart investments, increased supply chain visibility, and partnerships with suppliers.

What is the state of pharmaceutical exports to and from India? How do you see the shifts in market demand in recent times?

Currently, we operate 59 passenger freighters (these are cargo-only flights) and 22 freighters weekly to India, offering more than 2,800 tonnes of capacity both way, every week. Utilising our specialist product QR Pharma, in 2019, more than 25 per cent of all pharma shipment exports on our flights originated from India.

India is one of the prominent pharmaceutical markets, already a leading country for generic drug manufacturing. It’s just that the demand for pharmaceuticals into and from India keeps growing each year.

It is anticipated that India will be a major player during the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine and its components. We have a task-force team in place looking into various scenarios and plans, helping us to prepare for flying a COVID-19 vaccine when it is ready.

What about advanced technology deployments across the airline’s operations that provide real-time temperature updates and end-to-end track and trace services?

Given the nature of pharmaceutical shipments, it is essential to maintain a seamless cool chain during all phases of the transportation.

We have a wide range of data loggers and real-time monitoring devices that have been approved. Customers can choose the device they want to place in their shipments and they will receive real-time temperature data and updates regarding their shipments.

What else you believe differentiates Qatar Airways Cargo different from its counterparts?

Our people are our greatest asset. Additionally, the infrastructure, fleet, network and solutions make the perfect combination and enable us to provide the high-end service to our customers. Customer-centricity is at the core of our business and I believe this differentiates us from the rest of our competition. We are always ready to listen to our customers.

According to you, what are the emerging best practices in the pharma supply chain?

An efficient supply chain is the backbone of the pharma industry. With the changing times, collaboration, visibility and transparency are becoming all the more important, a patient-centric supply chain is therefore critical. Standardisation initiatives, such as the IATA CEIV program, focus on compliance, digitalisation and automation, which are in fact the emerging trends amidst COVID-19 disruption.

Do you think India has the potential to become a global pharma hub in the coming years?

India’s pharmaceutical market has its own unique characteristics, presenting opportunities and challenges. The country is already a major player and with the growing demand worldwide, India will definitely become more important in times to come, as it continues to address its supply chain challenges.

The COVID-19 crisis provides an opportunity to the Indian pharmaceutical industry to play a very important role in global healthcare and potentially become a global pharma hub.

Through our scheduled and charter services and an extensive network in India, we see ourselves well placed to support India’s booming pharma industry, utilising our product QR Pharma.

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