Qatar Airways Cargo recently announced the launch of additional Pharma Express flights from the pharmaceutical hubs of Basel and Brussels to Doha, providing a unique and dedicated air service to the growing pharmaceutical industry.
With an additional weekly frequency, operating on Fridays, from Basel to Doha which started on February 3, Qatar Airways Cargo will commence two additional Airbus A330 freighter services from Brussels to Doha on Wednesdays and Saturdays from February 15. These newly added frequencies take the cargo carrier’s the total Pharma Express flights to nine per week.
Upping its ante on pharmaceuticals transportation, Qatar Airways Cargo is constantly looking to reach out to new markets apart from expanding its freighter and charter programmes to high demand destinations.
In an interview with The STAT Trade Times, Ulrich Ogiermann, head of cargo, Qatar Airways Cargo reveals how the carrier is bridging the world’s major pharmaceutical trade lanes and on considering various options and future strategic plans for certification and product development and more…..
What steps is Qatar Cargo taking to better position itself as a leading cargo carrier for pharmaceutical transportation?
QR Pharma, our specialised product for time and temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals and healthcare products is an integral part of Qatar Airways Cargo and the fastest growing vertical within our cargo business.
All healthcare products are highly sensitive to environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, pressure and sunlight and require specialised handling and operational procedures. Transportation of these products are governed by strict regulations. To protect these high value products, we have developed a complete logistical process to maintain shipment integrity. We remain committed to quality and service excellence to ensure these temperature-sensitive goods are transported seamlessly, that the secure cool chain remains unbroken and products are delivered fit for purpose.
Qatar Airways Cargo pioneered industry-leading Pharma Express flights in 2015, to bridge the world’s major pharmaceutical trade lanes. The Pharma Express freighters provide quick, customised connections between the world’s major pharmaceutical hubs. We are successfully operating A330 freighters on Basel–Doha, Mumbai–Ahmedabad–Doha and Hyderabad–Doha routes, dedicated to QR Pharma customers. We have commenced operations into South America, bridging key pharmaceutical trade lanes with this fast growing region. Our QR Pharma network currently covers 71 destinations worldwide and is expanding further. The QR Pharma product underpins our commitment to regulatory needs and service quality for all pharmaceutical and healthcare shipments entrusted to us by our valued customers.
We are nearing completion of our state-of-the-art ‘Climate Control Centre’ at Hamad International Airport. This transit facility for pharmaceuticals, situated on the airside is commissioned to be ready in early 2017. The GDP compliant 2,471m2 facility will enhance our ability to process more volumes quickly within a climate-controlled environment. The Climate Control Centre has two zones operating for 2°-8°C or 15°-25°C with capacity to hold a total of 156 ULDs at a time. Segregated sections will hold pharmaceutical products in compliance with GDP regulations.
Qatar Airways Cargo partners with Envirotainer, CSafe and va-Q-tec for leasing a wide variety of temperature controlled containers across our combined network. We are also expanding our reefer truck fleet at the hub to cater to our growing business. Complete integration of our temperature management systems at Doha is well under progress, using location and temperature tracking devices across cold rooms and reefer trucks. Further improvement in automation is increasing the efficiency, optimisation and forecasting of our reefer truck fleet at the hub.
Our network development will offer our customers reach into new markets as will expansion of our freighter and charter programmes to high demand destinations. Qatar Airways Cargo remains at the forefront of being the airline of choice for our valued customers and will continue to improve continuously towards this endeavour.
Can you tell us about some of the latest service offerings that you have for the pharma industry?
Our highly specialised QR Pharma product offers Active and Passive transportation for our discerning customers. Both solutions have a high loading and handling priority, including late cut off times and prioritised destination delivery for QR Pharma shipments. Our dedicated Climate Control hub operations team proactively monitors every QR Pharma shipment from origin to destination, ensuring a seamless product delivery.
QR Pharma offers tail-to-tail Quick Ramp Transfer (QRT) at the hub, with temperature-controlled vehicles to provide protection from ambient conditions during ramp transportation. To enhance our QR Pharma product offering, we have a dedicated CAPA team (Corrective and Preventive Action) team who manage all deviation investigations centrally.
Qatar Airways Cargo has invested continuously in product development since the launch of QR Pharma in January 2014. We are nearing completion of our state-of-the-art ‘Climate Control Centre’ at Hamad International Airport. This transit facility for pharmaceuticals, situated on the airside, is commissioned to be ready in early 2017. The GDP compliant 2,471m2 facility will enhance our ability to process more volumes quickly within a climate-controlled environment. The Climate Control Centre has two zones operating for 2°-8°C or 15°-25°C with capacity to hold a total of 156 ULDs at a time. Segregated sections will hold pharmaceutical products in compliance with GDP regulations. Six truck docks with inflated curtains will be installed to seal around the truck when docked, to ensure complete temperature integrity. The facility will enable us to handle an additional 2 million tonnes throughput per annum.
Our Product Management team is expanding to manage strategic development and geographical market focus at our hub and in the regions.
Our research shows that global spending on medicines will reach $1.4 trillion in 2020 according to a report by IMS Health. This is fueled by increased healthcare access in emerging markets, new drug discoveries tied in with enhanced research and clinical trials, rapid growth of biologicals and funded vaccination programmes. To cater to this rapidly growing and evolving niche market, we are constantly improving our QR Pharma product to cover the entire transportation spectrum from end-to-end, as we believe the logistics sector plays a vital role in the safe and secure transportation of pharmaceuticals and healthcare products globally.
What growth rate do you see in the volume and value of pharma handled by Qatar Cargo?
Qatar Airways Cargo has seen a phenomenal increase in QR Pharma volumes year on year, since the product launch in January 2014. We are seeing a double digit growth each year in our pharmaceuticals business and this continues to improve as we expand our customer and geographical base with continued network expansion and product innovation.
The state-of-the-art, fully automated cargo facility at Hamad International Airport operates in accordance with the highest Pharmaceutical Industry Standards, compliant with ‘Good Distribution Practice’ (GDP). Pharmaceutical shipments are stored, transported and handled under strictly monitored conditions as required by product specification and are handled in a climate-controlled environment during every stage, including ramp transportation, warehouse storage and aircraft-to-aircraft transfers. Qatar Airways Cargo is the only global airline to offer reefer truck transportation on the ramp at our hub.
Have you considered GDP or CEIV certifications?
Qatar Airways Cargo is considering various options and future strategic plans for certification and product development. Meanwhile, our procedures are designed in accordance with the highest Pharmaceutical Industry Standards, compliant with ‘Good Distribution Practice’ (GDP). Qatar Airways Cargo engages in regular external audits by shippers and forwarders to maintain the highest standards of compliance and service quality.
What are the top three risks and potential gaps experienced by you as an airline when it comes to transporting pharmaceuticals?
It is beneficial for everyone involved in the logistics of niche products to engage in dialogue with clients and suppliers alike, to define and agree mutual expectations in order to minimise risks and enhance combined service delivery. This is best achieved through tripartite relationships and partnerships that offer more transparency and mutual cooperation to deliver a product ‘fit for purpose’ to the final consumer.
One of the greatest challenges that we can confidently say we have overcome is the perception of customers regarding temperature management on the tarmac. Our quick transfer solution and temperature-controlled vehicles, which meet the aircraft on arrival at the hub, prevent heat exposure from the moment shipments arrive on the tarmac. The use of refrigerated trucks in Doha ensures the cool chain is continuous and seamless.
Another common issue facing the industry is the correct booking and communication of these sensitive products through a complex supply chain starting with the shipper. Qatar Airways Cargo engages in many awareness and training programmes that not only cover our external customers but also internal team and partners through formal and informal channels.
Last but not the least, enhanced handling requirements of the product means increased investment in infrastructure, facilities, people and procedures. In a highly competitive environment, we are required to evolve constantly to match up to our customer’s expectations and deliver consistently.
Do you think shippers are making a conscious effort to opt for specialised pharma offerings by airlines than choosing to ship their products as general cargo?
Quality and reliability are key to ensure a seamless cool chain, hence transparent communication within the supply chain is crucial. QR Pharma encourages a tripartite approach to ensure successful partnership within the pharmaceuticals logistics chain.
Pharmaceutical shippers are not only driven by a need to comply with tight regulations, but also ensuring that their expensive and sensitive products remain fit for purpose from the time they leave the manufacturing facility until administered to the end patient or consumer.
Healthcare shippers are therefore evolving their own logistics process and requirements to define their requirements and expectations from their partners to fulfill these objectives.
More and more products are being booked as ‘temperature managed’ solutions than ever before. In fact, the industry is growing at a rapid pace and providing a great opportunity for creating new and bespoke products and solutions to cater to complex transportation needs in geographical reach, service reliability, cost efficiency and consistency.