Frankfurt / Main (dpa) – At Frankfurt airport, preparations for the distribution of the corona vaccine are in full swing.
In the “cargo cities” to the north and south of the site, all employees are on board, because even without the corona vaccine, cargo is buzzing at Germany’s largest airport. In October, for the first time in 15 months, the amount transported was more than 178,000 tons, higher than the corresponding month of the previous year, according to the operator Fraport reported on Thursday. The economic crisis seems to have ended in this area.
Fraport and Lufthansa Cargo, as the area’s largest airline, expect another small boom due to corona vaccines, which are about to be approved. “We are preparing for both import and export,” says Fraport manager Max Philipp Conrady. “We still don’t know what will come and what will occur where.” In terms of quantity, the corona vaccine is not much of a challenge, but like all temperature-sensitive shipments, it requires a particularly high level of effort and care.
An unbroken cold chain is particularly important for medicines: there are basically three internationally defined temperature ranges between +25 and -20 degrees Celsius, as well as the ultra-low temperature range down to -80 degrees. There are currently around 13,500 square meters of “temperature controlled” handling capacity available at the airport, and another 500 square meters is about to come online. 20 modern thermal conveyors could be used for transport across the platform. Last year, around 120,000 tonnes of vaccines, medicines and other pharmaceuticals were handled at Germany’s largest cargo airport.
Most of it was carried by Lufthansa Cargo, which installed the largest pharmaceutical transshipment center in Europe at its center. In addition, there are around 200 stations around the world that are prepared and certified for the transport of medicines because Lufthansa specialized from the beginning in the lucrative pharmaceutical sub-market, which contributes around 10 percent of sales. Last year almost 100,000 tons of cargo were collected.
According to a spokeswoman, Lufthansa’s freight division has established a task force for the upcoming distribution of corona vaccines, which coordinates with freight forwarders, pharmaceutical manufacturers, other partners and authorities. “With our fleet of freighters, we can always flexibly adjust to changes in demand and, if necessary, add more capacity with passenger aircraft,” he says.
The Mainz-based Biontech vaccine, for example, must be permanently stored at a temperature of minus 80 degrees. Logistics specialists call this “very frozen.” And that means storage in liquid nitrogen, a dangerous good that can only be moved away from the flow of passengers on pure cargo planes.
For Fraport man Conrady, there is no doubt that Frankfurt will play a central role in the distribution of the vaccine. The central location, the relevant infrastructure, even for large quantities, including security bookings, and finally the expertise of the partners involved: there is no way around Frankfurt Airport when it comes to vaccinations.
“October went very well and November at least is starting as well,” says Fraport manager Conrady of overall developments. The fact that the previous year’s amounts have been exceeded, although numerous cargo options on passenger planes have been eliminated, shows the change in the largest German hub. Pure cargo flights have increased by more than 50 percent compared to the same period last year. After the leading Lufthansa Cargo and the Russian AirBridgeCargo, China Southern and Air China are currently the main customers.
As in spring, the “splendid” return, passenger planes that have been temporarily converted into freighters. Short-term work is a foreign concept in freight transportation, regardless of whether it’s for the airport operator, airlines, freight forwarders, or handlers, says Conrady. “We have all hands at work.” The airport works under full load on the cargo side, especially on weekends, almost nothing fits. Charter flights, which are sometimes more flexible in terms of time, then move to other days or hours of the day.