A spirit of collaboration has helped the Edmonton International Airport (YEG) earn a global reputation as a leader in pharmaceutical logistics and innovative delivery, says the organization's manager in charge of cargo.
"We are fortunate in YEG that we have a collaborative community that is willing to work with one another and help each other at every point in the supply chain," said Trevor Caswell, manager of demand and product development for cargo. "This level of collaboration does not exist everywhere in the world."
Caswell also serves as chair of the board for Pharma.Aero, an international consortium of life science and medical shippers, cargo firms, airports, and logistics specialists working to improve supply chains for medicine across the globe. At the organization's Pharma Logistics Masterclass in Abu Dhabi earlier this month, he discussed a couple of projects that YEG contributed to: Project Sunrays, which sought to ensure the safe delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, and Project UAV, which examines the use of drones for last-mile delivery of medical goods.
The event attracted more than 120 industry experts, academics, and policymakers from 21 countries for five days of presentations, debates, and workshops related to pharma logistics and supply chains. It was an opportunity to learn from others as well as to share more about some of YEG's efforts.
"We always have room to improve, and by connecting our region with other global pharma communities and organizations, it will allow us to collaborate and learn from one another about what works and what doesn't," Caswell said.
YEG participated in the joint steering group for Project Sunrays, which aimed to strengthen industry collaboration in support of the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines. It also contributed to the recommendations and lessons learned that were documented in the final white paper.
Though vaccine distribution in Canada was awarded to a single provider, YEG still benefitted from participating in the project, Caswell said.
YEG is the first and only airport in Canada to achieve community certification through the Center of Excellence for Independent Validators in Pharmaceutical Logistics (CEIV Pharma), a program created by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to ensure that high-value, temperature-controlled goods are handled properly.
"Being a part of the Project Sunrays joint task force and having direct insight to other global CEIV communities' best practices and understanding the pharma shipper's needs gave us the ability to provide valuable feedback to our cargo community," Caswell wrote.
The community approach is uncommon, Caswell explained, as many companies pursue the certification on their own. "We see the longer-term benefit of a community that can support the highest standard in the world for pharma," he said. "It supports our goal to be further ahead in the supply chain."
According to YEG, more than $150 million has been invested in cargo infrastructure since 2013. The airport has more than 10,000 square feet of temperature-controlled facilities, covering everything from -28C to 25C. During the pandemic, YEG expanded its capabilities to support ultra-cold storage in the range of -50C to -90C, which means the airport can properly store vaccines that require such low temperatures.
Caswell credits the CEIV certification with teaching YEG and its partners about the importance of collaboration.
"To ensure the cargo community continues to grow, we need to support each other," he said, noting that organizations such as Edmonton Global and the surrounding municipalities all stand behind YEG as an access point for freight. "We can't bring in new investment without that collaboration."
Caswell also participated in a panel about Project UAV, which explored the potential of scaling up the use of uncrewed aerial vehicles, or drones, to deliver lifesaving health products to remote communities. More than 26,000 patients in Malawi were immunized with vaccines transported by drone.
The project came about because of a suggestion from Caswell. "I had been on the board for about three years and raised my hand and said, 'What about incorporating drones?'" YEG subsequently became one of the project leads.
"It allows us to be a part of international humanitarian projects and share things that we have learned from our experiences here in the region," Caswell said.
"YEG was the first in Canada to have this type of flight happen," Caswell said. "We are able to provide insight and value to other international partners in the commercial drone space, from what we have learned here in the region."
Though drone deliveries in the region are not yet transporting pharmaceuticals, the capability exists for the future, Caswell said. The airport's CEIV certification will play a role in supporting that.
He added that sustainability has become a core focus for the airport and is something it wants to see along the entire supply chain. Earlier this year, YEG was selected by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines as the host airport for the Sustainable Flight Challenge.
"We build on that momentum each year," Caswell said.