Market Intelligence Special Pharma

The transport of pharmaceutical products is associated with high demands for shippers. Due to the product properties, they are usually transported at a controlled temperature. They require special transport containers and storage equipment. Regulations and strict quality guidelines must be observed. Often the delivery is time-critical and requires a fast and safe handling.

In addition, there are only a few highly qualified providers for temperature-controlled air freight on the market, and capacities are rather scarce. Reliable market information on price developments, processes and services is not available. Shippers are more inclined towards long-term cooperation with service providers.

With clear market information and transparency on market prices, capacities and services, shippers are better prepared for service provider negotiations and can achieve cost savings. Due to a lack of transparency in the market, they have no access to this market information.

Since 2008, the Market Intelligence Initiative Global Air Cargo has been implementing a comprehensive benchmarking of air transport for its Community members. Consignment structures, service criteria, product characteristics and supply chain processes of the participating shippers are taken into account.

In 2020, MII Global Air Cargo offers a special initiative “MII Pharma Air Cargo” in addition to the usual service.  This special initiative was created mainly for companies in the pharmaceutical industry, there is no comparable approach in the market.  It analyses freight rates and service levels especially for temperature-controlled air cargo. In addition, participants will receive a detailed insight into current market developments and best practices. The results of the special benchmarking should be available by the end of the year.

For this new initiative Tim Consult has brought a pharmaceutical and air freight expert on board. Ingo Ocklenburg, former Corporate Category Lead Air Cargo at Bayer AG, will support us in the new initiative. We asked him about his experiences with temperature controlled air cargo.


Ingo Ocklenburg, what are the biggest challenges for you when transporting temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical products?

The required temperature must be maintained exactly during the entire transport from warehouse to warehouse. This is certainly one of the greatest challenges for shippers and service providers. Many different parties are involved in the transport process. Usually not all warehouses, transit warehouses or certain airport areas are temperature controlled. Appropriate packaging plays a major role here, helping to ensure that temperature specifications are met.


Which packaging solutions are generally used?

Depending on the temperature requirements, pharmaceutical companies use different types of packaging and rely on their own and/or other packaging solutions available on the market.

The safest solution are actively temperature-controlled air freight containers. They are equipped with integrated heating and cooling technology. Disadvantage, they generate very high costs and are only available to a limited extent. There are not enough containers for the entire annual volume of all temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical products worldwide.

In addition, there are passive solutions such as thermo hoods, thermo blankets or packaging with very good insulation performance in connection with the use of pre-conditioned cooling packages. Advantage, the air freight costs are much lower compared to active air freight containers. The disadvantage, however, is that the effect of the cooling elements decreases with transport time and the ambient temperature to which the cargo is exposed.

Advanced new and expensive medicines can economically cope with much higher logistics costs. So-called generic pharmaceuticals with the same requirements, but considerably cheaper in price, may not be able to cope with very high logistics costs.

In addition to cost aspects, transport duration, time of transport as well as climate zones and ambient temperature are decisive for the choice of packaging solutions.

In any case, the ultimate goal is to maintain the temperature specifications.


How important is the validation of transport routes in this case?

Since external factors such as climate, weather or even transport duration have a significant influence on the temperature of the transport loads, validation of the transport route is an important prerequisite for the safe transport of temperature-controlled products. There are many ways to validate a transport route. A good risk assessment and/or continuous recording of the temperature curve by temperature loggers are possible options.


Which internal organizational units are involved in the preparation and handling of temperature-controlled air freight transports?

In the pharmaceutical industry, product safety is a top priority from production to the customer. For this reason, departments such as quality, supply chain management and purchasing play a major role.

The quality requirements are often so tightly defined that under the desired conditions almost no air transport would be possible. In this case, all parties involved must find a common, sustainable solution that is feasible, available on the market and economically justifiable.


On which contractual basis are transports of temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical products usually realized?

There are very different agreements between shippers and air freight forwarders, such as SOP (standard operating procedures), lane SOP, master Service agreements or quality assurance agreements. All these agreements, individually or jointly, are used as the basis for the transport of temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical products. These agreements are subject to constant review and are regularly adapted to changing conditions.


To what extent do available internal stability data play a role in the release of deliveries in case of temperature deviations within the tolerance range?

Reliable stability data are a decisive factor in the release of deliveries and, ultimately, in the good care and treatment of customers and patients. This is especially true for passive cold chains with temperature requirements between 2 and 25 degrees Celsius.


Are you a shipper from the pharmaceutical industry and interested in a reliable benchmarking of costs and services for temperature-controlled air freight?  Then become part of the special initiative “MII Pharma Air Cargo”. Our air cargo experts will be pleased to provide further information. Please contact them by using this link. Or send an e-mail to