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Taking Flight: The Perils of Air Freight Shipping

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Are you worried about getting perishable, temperature-sensitive air-freight to its destination without compromising its value? Whether your freight must remain within a certain temperature range at all times or just needs to stay above freezing, taking the right steps to ensure a safe, timely delivery does not have to be a troublesome task.    

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) states that a shipment is perishable if its contents will deteriorate over a period of time if exposed to severe environmental conditions such as extreme temperatures or humidity. Examples of these perishable products include (but are not limited to) pharmaceuticals, chemicals, batteries, seafood, dairy, plants, meat, fruits, and vegetables. Temperature control within the cargo holds of most aircraft is limited and wide variations can occur throughout the entire hold. These variations depend upon placement, location, time at altitude, and the duration of the flight. However, the greatest and most frequent vulnerability to temperature exposure occurs on the airport tarmac when goods are exposed to outside elements before aircraft loading, or during unloading.

One industry that is particularly concerned with temperature and humidity controlled air freight is the pharmaceutical industry, including the transportation and logistics providers that move, store, process, and deliver their products. According to IATA, by 2021 world sales of drugs and of biologics such as vaccines and insulin will top $396 billion, in a global biopharma market exceeding $1.47 trillion. Twenty percent of pharmaceutical products require active temperature-control, which could include refrigeration or freezing. This means that proper temperature monitoring is a key component in order to protect valuable product.

Another industry with a need for temperature controlled air freight is the seafood industry. According to Seafood Scotland, exports moving from Scotland to Asia have risen more than 400 percent since 2007. Among other types of seafood, the main list of goods are shellfish, salmon, whitefish and pelagic. “Seafood now accounts for the largest rise in Scotland food shipments,” says Natalie Bell, trade marketing manager for Europe, the Middle East, and Asia at Seafood Scotland. Seafood poses an extreme risk of spoiling when exposed to high temperatures making temperature control and monitoring crucial in the shipping process.  

Spoilage from heat isn’t the only thing to worry about when it comes to air shipping. While some items are required to maintain freezing temperatures during transportation, other items such as chemicals, cannot reach freezing temperatures. That being said, what steps can be taken to ensure a successful delivery?

First, highly temperature-sensitive items should be kept in temperature controlled docks and storage facilities pending the time it is ready to move to the aircraft. Always protect refrigerator and freezer products with gel packs, dry ice, foam sheets, or other insulating material. For extra protection, pre-cool the package container before packing the product. Fill all void space with dunnage such as loosefill peanuts to prevent product movement. If the shipment contains liquid or perishable products that can melt or thaw, bag the products or line the insulated container using a minimum 2-mil watertight plastic bag. Seal the package in an outer box with pressure sensitive tape applied to all flaps and seams.

Finally, the best way to prevent perishable product loss is to communicate with your shipping team about proper temperature sensitive product handling. Include temperature data loggers within the packaging of each shipment and aircraft cargo hold. Monitoring the temperature will guarantee that your shipment never went out of regulation temperature range. If rare events such as equipment failure or accidents happen to occur while the shipment is in transit, having a plan in place will make it easier to overcome the situation.

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