5 years and over 400 mn kilos of pharma: SkyCargo’s exemplary journey complemented by its ‘fit-for-purpose’ infrastructure

Emirates SkyCargo, the global leader in the air transport of temperature sensitive pharmaceuticals, is marking an important operational milestone.

Five years ago, in September 2016, Emirates SkyCargo raised the bar in the air cargo industry for the safe and efficient transport of pharmaceuticals by launching its dedicated GDP certified pharma handling facility at Dubai International Airport and at the same time unveiling its three-tiered specialised product – Emirates Pharma.

Nabil Sultan, Emirates Divisional Senior Vice President, Cargo said, “At Emirates SkyCargo, we recognised very early on that our customers were looking for increasingly specialised solutions for their cargo and this was true especially for valuable and life-saving medicines that have to be transported under very strict conditions. After extensive planning and significant investment to our infrastructure, processes and people, we introduced our 360 degree transportation solution backed by state-of-the-art GDP certified Dubai handling facility for our pharma customers in September 2016.”

“The response from the market was overwhelmingly positive and we managed to very quickly transform the perception that Dubai was a destination to be avoided for pharma cargo in the summer to that of Dubai being a reliable hub for pharma customers all year round. Our pharma volumes have continued to grow over the years and to date we have transported more than 400 million kilos (400,000 tonnes) of pharma cargo under our Emirates Pharma umbrella.”

Hub Dubai: Emirates SkyCargo has over 20,000 sq. metres of GDP compliant storage and handling space at its hub in Dubai processing close to 200,000 kilos (200 tonnes) of pharmaceuticals every single day comprising vaccines, biologics, medicines for illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and a range of other medical treatments.

Emirates SkyCargo’s pharma operations in Dubai have undergone rigorous evaluation for compliance to GDP guidelines by Bureau Veritas, Germany including two full certification cycles involving multiple certification and surveillance audits. Emirates SkyCargo’s pharma operations have also successfully undergone multiple audits conducted by customers and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

The carrier has one of the world’s largest fleet of Cool Dollys which help maintain cargo at a stable temperature between aircraft and terminal. Close to 50 of these Cool Dollys are dedicated for pharmaceutical cargo. Emirates SkyCargo also works with a number of specialised container providers in order to offer customers a better choice and fit for their shipping needs.

Building connections to deliver cures: The establishment of a world class transportation hub for pharmaceuticals at Dubai by Emirates SkyCargo has facilitated the rapid and secure transport of pharmaceutical products from manufacturing locations to end destinations. Over the years, the carrier has been able to connect increasing volumes of pharma cargo between markets spread across six continents including India, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, UK, Russia, United States, Brazil, Australia, Korea, Japan, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Nearly one third of the total pharma cargo exported on Emirates SkyCargo every year originates from India.

Emirates SkyCargo has also worked with ground handlers across more than 35 leading pharma origin and destination airports to ensure high standards of pharma handling from origin to destination. In Chicago, one of the major pharma stations in the Emirates SkyCargo network, the carrier worked closely with the local ground handler for developing a GDP certified airside pharmaceutical handling facility spread over 1000 sq. metres. Pharma operations at Copenhagen, another important pharma station were also moved to a dedicated GDP certified facility in 2019.

COVID-19 pandemic: During the pandemic, it became even more essential for Emirates SkyCargo to maintain the supply chain across the world for pharmaceutical products, for treatment of COVID-19 and other illnesses. By deploying an increasing number of cargo only flights on passenger aircraft, Emirates SkyCargo offered continued connectivity for the transport of urgently required pharmaceuticals.

As early as August 2020, Emirates SkyCargo commenced preparations to make its hub fit for purpose for the transportation of COVID-19 vaccines. More recently, the carrier expanded its cool room infrastructure with 94 airline pallet positions at its EU GDP certified dedicated pharma facility at Dubai International Airport. The extended cool room provides additional capacity in a temperature controlled environment (2-250Celsius), allowing for the equivalent of between additional 60- 90 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to be stored at any one point of time. Between October 2020 and September 2021, Emirates SkyCargo has transported more than 250 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to more than 75 destinations through its hub in Dubai.

As part of the Dubai Vaccine Logistics Alliance, Emirates SkyCargo joined hands with DP World, International Humanitarian City and Dubai Airports to combine expertise and strengths to expedite the movement of vaccines to developing nations through Dubai. The carrier also entered into an MoU with UNICEF to facilitate the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in support of the COVAX facility for equitable distribution of vaccines.

In May 2021, Emirates SkyCargo set up the Emirates India Humanitarian Airbridge and donated cargo capacity to transport essential supplies including oxygen cylinders, concentrators and relief tents free of charge on flights from Dubai to Indian destinations to help the Indian community battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

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