While the pandemic has had a shattering impact on commercial aviation, it’s one of the industries playing a crucial role in combatting the virus — via distribution starting last month of billions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. This monumental effort is putting available planes and crews to work delivering shipments of immunizations.
“Vaccine transport demand is coming from all corners of the world,” Razzaq said. The big cargo operators are playing a central role in the vaccine distribution. Companies such as FedEx and UPS have extensive networks spanning the globe, but their efforts will need to be supplemented by flag carriers and even regional carriers in certain remote parts of the world.” Razzaq added this increases the opportunity for the cargo segment growth for both smaller operators and new entrants.
FedEx said it is “prepared to ship vaccines, globally, as they become available,” while UPS reported on its first “whirlwind day months in the making.” Meanwhile Delta said “within three hours of being engaged, Delta Cargo had the vaccines in hand and on their way.”
Singapore Airlines delivered the first shipment of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccines from Belgium to Singapore on Dec. 21 with Boeing 747-400F aircraft. It was the first Pfizer vaccine shipment to be delivered to a country in Asia.
Many of the aircraft transporting these vaccines are powered by Pratt & Whitney PW2000 and PW4000 engines. FedEx and UPS have a combined fleet of approximately 190 Pratt & Whitney-powered freighter aircraft. Pratt & Whitney also powers Boeing 757, 767 and Airbus A330 aircraft fleets for Delta, and 767 and 777 fleets for United. Traditionally, much of the world’s cargo was flown in the belly of passenger aircraft. During the pandemic, many airlines have been operating cargo-only flights and this trend is likely to continue with vaccine-only flights. For example, a single 777 can carry up to 1 million doses.
“We’re proud to be part of this historic effort,” said Rick Deurloo, chief commercial officer at Pratt & Whitney. “Our engines power aircraft which have played a crucial role throughout the pandemic, including transporting medical supplies and personnel, and operating repatriation flights. The vaccine distribution will require innovative teamwork with our customers as they see a sustained effort for some time and are looking for our support of their operations.”
As the supply chain broadens and deepens, more aircraft powered by Pratt & Whitney will come into play – including turboprops used in general aviation and regional aviation, and turboshaft engines powering helicopters around the world. In Latin America, Chile started its COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Dec. 24 as 10,000 doses arrived at Santiago airport from Pfizer. The doses were transferred by police AW139 helicopter, powered by Pratt & Whitney PT6C engines, to a logistics center in Santiago, with vaccinations due to begin later that morning.
UNICEF, the humanitarian relief organization of the United Nations, has also been working tirelessly by getting the vaccine to 170 countries. The agency has long used aviation to fulfill its mission and more than 75 percent of fixed-wing aircraft used for humanitarian flights are powered by Pratt & Whitney Canada engines.
“As difficult as the past nine months have been, our hope is the New Year will bring renewal and a comforting sense of accomplishment as we work together to achieve the common good and a healthier planet,” said Irene Makris, vice president, Marketing for Pratt & Whitney Canada.
Razzaq added it’s been amazing to get calls from colleagues interested in learning more, offering to help and to be part of cargo efforts. And Jess Pietroniro, PW4000-94 program manager, pointed out adaptability has been key.
“Working in aviation has always been exciting, but for our team to be even just a small piece of such a crucial initiative is extremely rewarding,” said Pietroniro. “I’m very proud of how our entire team has come together to support our fleets throughout the pandemic.”