8,000 cargo planes are needed to distribute COVID-19 vaccine, group says

Roughly 8,000 jumbo jets could be needed to distribute coronavirus vaccines around the globe — a massive logistical challenge that will require careful planning from governments worldwide, an airline trade group warns.

The staggering estimate is how many 747 cargo planes it would take to carry just a single dose of a COVID-19 inoculation for each of the world’s 7.8 billion people, the International Air Transport Association said Wednesday, calling the task of delivering the vaccines “the mission of the century for the global air cargo industry.”

While some of the shots will be moved over land, IATA noted that airlines are running on “diminished” capacity because they have parked planes and cut back flight networks as the pandemic depressed demand for air travel.

“Even if we assume that half the needed vaccines can be transported by land, the air cargo industry will still face its largest single transport challenge ever,” Alexandre de Juniac, the group’s director general and CEO, said in a statement.

The association urged government officials to begin planning with the industry now so they can be ready to distribute vaccines whenever they are approved. Some 180 potential COVID-19 vaccines are in the works, including 35 that are in various stages of clinical trials, according to the World Health Organization.

In addition to a potentially huge number of planes, distribution will require temperature-controlled facilities and equipment to preserve the vaccines while they’re in transit along with staffers to handle them and security arrangements to make sure they aren’t stolen or tampered with, the group said.

Government officials should also cut red tape to help international shipments get through borders quickly, according to IATA. The association recommended fast-tracking overflight and landing permits for operations carrying a coronavirus vaccine and exempting flight crews from quarantine requirements, among other measures.

“We urge governments to take the lead in facilitating cooperation across the logistics chain so that the facilities, security arrangements and border processes are ready for the mammoth and complex task ahead,” de Juniac said.

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