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How Covid-19 is fast-tracking progress in air freight supply chains

During a webinar on the future of life science airfreight, the third in a series of webinars by Pharma.Aero in partnership with STAT Times, experts weighed in on the changes wrought by the pandemic and the long-term forecasts for life science air freight, noting that there would be no going back to the 'old normal'.
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Image source: Gallo/Getty

Few - if any - air freight supply chain stakeholders envisaged a global pandemic and air-traffic shutdown in their business continuity plans, and all had to react quickly, collaboratively and innovatively to cope with the disruption. The lessons learned during the Covid-19 pandemic are likely to fast-track digitisation, agility and collaboration in the sector going forward.

Dr Wouter Dewulf, Academic Director C-MAT at the University of Antwerp, predicted growth and change in the life sciences sector over the medium to long term, with health care becoming increasingly strategic, more mergers and acquisitions in the sector and nationalisation of parts of the industry. The consequences of this would include commoditisation, shorter supply chains, and strategic stock building.

Maximising on emerging trends

"Covid-19 will accelerate trends which were already coming. In 20 years, life sciences supply chain volumes will triple, twice the level of GDP growth," he predicted. In the pharma sector, it was expected that regional blocs would form, with shortened supply chains within these blocs. However, air cargo was expected to continue growing across the board. "The long term trends are still very positive," he said.

To maximise the opportunities of these emerging trends, stakeholders would have to maintain the momentum of progress they had made in coping with the pandemic, speakers said.

They noted that leading pharmaceutical companies, shippers and airlines had been forced to adapt quickly during the pandemic to maintain standards and service – and communication, collaboration and digital technologies had supported this.

Paul Delbar, solution architect at Nallian, noted: "Everyone suffered from a lack of visibility and predictability, so they had to increase their efforts to coordinate planning and avoid bottlenecks."

Digiitising data

Kathleen Buckley, director for inter-regional transport excellence consumer/pharm at Johnson & Johnson said digital solutions and quality data underpinned such coordination. "Digital technologies allow for better global visibility from end to end, whether this is from warehouse to warehouse or vaccine to patient’s arm. Knowing exactly where everything is in the supply chain supports security, and allows us to switch quickly and meet new customer needs."

Marc Schmid, head CHHub and logistics experts at Novartis, noted: "Connecting all of the dots across the supply chain is a challenge most stakeholders face. But to achieve the agility to move quickly on new routes, you need full visibility."

Trevor Caswell, vice-chair of Pharma.Aero and account manager, cargo and resource centre at Edmonton International Airport, said the pandemic had taught supply chain stakeholders to focus on agility, resilience, visibility and collaboration. "We need to work on improved methods throughout the entire supply chain. All shippers, freight forwarders and airlines will have to work together to improve resilience, and at the same time digital advancements and data quality must be a focus to improve transparency, and ultimately traceability."

Suzette Scheepers, CEO of air cargo Africa organisers Messe Muenchen South Africa, said: "Collaboration is clearly the key to future progress. For the air freight sector across Africa, air cargo Africa presents a prime opportunity to network and forge new partnerships to drive development and growth."

Pharma supply chain challenges, solutions and opportunities will come under discussion at air cargo Africa 2021, which will be presented by Messe Muenchen South Africa at the Sandton Convention Centre from 9-11 February 2021.

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