Lives at stake


An airline’s readiness to carry out pharma and healthcare cargo deliveries under normal and emergency conditions plays a crucial role in public safety. As a national airline, Finnair has a preparedness mandate as part of Finland’s security of supply scheme. 

“The general objective of security of supply is to ensure that the transport logistics system is part of the infrastructure that’s critical for society and which can be guaranteed under all circumstances, says Raija Viljanen, logistics manager at Finland’s National Emergency Supply Agency (NESA). “Airlines play a crucial role in evacuations and medical deliveries in terms of cargo deliveries.” 

From a security of supply standpoint, the most important air deliveries within Finland are those related to pharma and healthcare. Under normal conditions, these include medical samples, blood products and transplant organs. In international air deliveries, medicines are the main product group.

Critical products

Antibiotics, infusion fluids and anaesthetics are essential life-saving products. “These patent-free items are mainly produced in countries with lower labor costs. In Finland, public and private agencies are required by law to stockpile drugs for exceptional situations. During a pandemic, though, demand may spike so high that pharmaceuticals and medical supplies have to be flown in rapidly,” says Riku Juhola, Special Adviser for healthcare operations at NESA.

For 60 years, Finland’s security of supply system has depended on public-private partnerships. 

“For instance, Finnair’s preparedness mandate has spurred the company to proactively meet healthcare needs. A good example of this was when Finnair, on its own accord, launched medical deliveries to the tsunami-hit area of Thailand in 2004, although it wasn’t even yet clear who would pay for the flights,” notes Viljanen.

Pharma as an opportunity

According to the IATA , the share of the global pharma product transports by air cargo shrank from 17 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2013, mainly due to a lack of compliance, standardization, accountability and transparency across the air transport supply chain. These issues are addressed in the IATA’s Center of Excellence for Independent Validators in their Pharmaceutical Logistics program. 

“In 2015, Finnair was the world’s first airline to complete the IATA pharmaceutical certification process. We see pharma as a great opportunity for the air cargo industry. Cooperation and transparency across the entire supply chain from shipper to consignee is key to increased competitiveness,” says Henry Rantala, Manager, Cargo Compliance & Standards at Finnair Cargo.

Pharmaceutical deliveries are subject to extensive regulations and guidelines from both healthcare and aviation authorities and organizations. 

Crucial temperature chain

Legislation also provides the framework for Finnair Cargo’s service concept. “It’s essential that pharmaceutical products be kept at the correct temperature throughout the transport process. The most critical points in the chain are wherever they change hands, for instance during transfers between aircraft and terminals,” adds Rantala.

At Helsinki Airport, Finnair Cargo can transfer temperature-sensitive medicines from plane to terminal within half an hour.

“In response to customer wishes, we’re continually increasing the transparency of our services. Thanks to modern sensor and communications technology, we can give our customers precise data about each delivery’s location and temperature. Our new COOL Nordic Cargo hub terminal will open in early 2017 and will have a dedicated Pharma Center with temperature monitoring connected to our new cargo management system (CMS) to better serve our healthcare customers,” Rantala says.

Asia to central Europe

Japan, together with China and South Korea are relatively strong players in Asia in the pharma market. However, India contributes to the majority of the Asian market in terms of patent-free drugs.

“Our main traffic is between Asia and Europe, but we also carry medicines from India to North America. We have hubs in Brussels and London as well. Most of the pharmaceuticals we deliver end up in central Europe,” Rantala says.

Finnair Cargo has a good working relationship with its regular customers, who want to discuss all the requirements, service level agreements and emergency guidelines related to various types of pharmaceutical deliveries.

“We want to know well in advance about temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical deliveries on any particular flight,” he adds, “as they are always given high priority.” 

Text by Jorma Leppänen

Published April 27, 2016

Category: Market updates