American Airlines Begins Trials for Covid Vaccine Transport

 - November 30, 2020, 11:49 AM
A Boeing 777-200 stands ready to accept cargo at Miami International Airport. American’s cargo operation has recently used a 777-200 for trial flights from Miami to South America in preparation for transporting the Covid-19 vaccine. (Photo: American Airlines)

This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.


American Airlines has begun flight trials with a Boeing 777-200 to prepare for transporting Covid-19 vaccines, the company said on Monday. The trials, begun in mid-November between Miami and South America, simulate the conditions needed to test vaccines’ thermal packaging and the handling processes needed to ensure they arrive safely at their destinations once health authorities issue their approvals.

Early vaccine candidates require extremely cold temperatures—as low as minus 100 degrees Celsius—during storage and transport to remain effective. Calling itself an expert in cold-chain logistics, American has already transported components for Phase 3 Covid vaccine trials, including carrying test vaccines and specimens to research facilities around the world.

The airline said it has an established network of facilities and employees who specialize in temperature-critical shipments and know how to meet the variety of requirements that different pharmaceuticals might need. Vaccine shipments can travel in “active containers” with built-in temperature controls that regulate and monitor shipments during transport or “passive containers” cooled with cold packs or dry ice in an enclosed system designed to keep the product cold for the life of its journey.

In 2019, American’s cargo operations began an overhaul of its IT infrastructure to ensure better tracking and management of shipments and allow for more proactive monitoring for troubleshooting potential problems before they occur. “Between these technology enhancements and American’s experts on the ground, all cargo shipped on American flights, including sensitive life sciences products, is closely tracked,” said the company in a statement.