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Astral Aviation Prepared to Distribute COVID-19 Vaccine Within Africa
Weeks after taking delivery of a Boeing 767-200 freighter from the Air Transport Services Group (ATSG) with a five-year lease, Nairobi-based cargo airline Astral Aviation now says it is ready for the distribution of recently discovered COVID-19 vaccines during its forthcoming distribution across its scheduled network of 15 destinations within Africa and a further 50 destinations available on charter flights with its fleet of 14 freighter jets.
Astral Aviation — in its 20 years of providing freight services — has made every effort to maintain its global freight network while ensuring its supply chain is in place by facilitating the transportation of thousands of tons of vaccines and pharma products. It played an important role in the various immunization programs in Africa and across the world including supporting efforts to tackle Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Cholera pandemic in Yemen.
But even more so since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, to ensure that healthcare facilities, as well as private citizens, have access to medicines, Astral transported in excess of 15,000 tons of personal protective equipment, testing kits, ventilators and other related critical products to over 40 countries in Africa.
Distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines now seemingly remains to be the next global logistical challenge, and with the arrival of the first converted 767-200 freighter in Africa, with a payload of 40 tons — or 350 cubic meters — Astral will offer an on-demand charter service for vaccines to Africa. This also complements Astral’s existing regional fleet of Boeing 727 freighters, McDonald Douglas DC-9s, Fokker 50s and Fokker 27s to provide onward delivery to numerous destinations from its Nairobi hub, according to Sanjeev Gadhia, Astral’s chief executive officer
With the American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, together with its German partner BioNTech, announcing great success in the analysis of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine remains to be an unprecedented logistical operation as many of these will need to be distributed at very low temperatures.
The Pfizer vaccine must be kept deep-frozen at -70 degrees Celsius while others will need to be distributed at a constant temperature of between two and eight degrees Celsius. This means that logistical solutions will be essential to maintain quality throughout the vaccine distribution chain.
Astral’s home at the ultra-modern Africa Freight Services Terminal, at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, is GDP — short for Good Distribution Practices — certified for pharma-handling a cold room capacity of 3,000 square meters, with temperatures ranging from two to eight degrees Celsius and reaching -20 degrees Celsius. Additional capacity of 6,000 square meters of cold-room facilities is available on the air-side within the freighter-friendly airport, according to Astral Chief Operating Officer Michael Mutahi.
Astral Ground Operations Manager Alex Muhuyu says, “Astral’s Pharma Product combined with the expertise of its Pharma team provides a reliable service for temperature-sensitive products across the network, which includes a safe re-packing and re-icing service which will enhance the cool-chain value of vaccines for onward distribution within Africa.”
Gadhia also added that the much-anticipated distribution of COVID-19 vaccines from the first quarter of 2021 will require collaboration on a large scale between the vaccine manufacturers and all members of the supply chain, especially in Africa.
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