Most of the world’s healthcare giants operate production plants in and around San Juan. Freighters are their preferred choice for moving pharmaceuticals, because with cargo-only flights it is easier to control the temperature of the valuable goods and bigger lots can be moved as a single shipment.
So far, companies exporting goods from Puerto Rico could only use passenger aircraft out of San Juan or freighters out of Aguadilla, 80 miles (130 km) away. “Now our healthcare customers can put their temperature-sensitive goods on a cargo-only aircraft right on their doorstep. Not only do we cut out an 80 mile road leg of the journey, we also ensure the best possible control on the ground and in the air from door-to-door,” says Matthias Frey, global head of Panalpina’s own controlled air freight network.
Panalpina’s experience with pharmaceutical companies and its long-term relationship with Cargolux, coupled with the carrier’s expertise in moving temperature-sensitive goods, helped establish the new route. The service called “Caribbean Star”, a scheduled commercial flight operated by Cargolux, uses a 747-400F. Before crossing the Atlantic, the freighter flies from Quito, Ecuador, to Bogota, Colombia, and then directly to San Juan, where Panalpina adds the goods. From Luxembourg, Panalpina’s Road Feeder Service (RFS) brings the goods to their final destination in Europe.
Panalpina’s new service begins when goods arrive at the company’s state-of-the-art 37,500 sq. ft. (3,500 m2) facility in San Juan. The facility is fully equipped to handle a great variety of cargo, from high-value, to hazardous and temperature-sensitive goods. Dubbed “the coolest place in the Caribbean”, it is only two miles from San Juan International Airport.
Just like the receiving station in Luxembourg, the facility has dedicated temperature-controlled storage areas. It also uses SmartView, a sophisticated wireless technology to remotely monitor and document temperatures. This kind of documentation has become mandatory and an integral part of strict Good Distribution Practices (GDP) and standard operating procedures for many healthcare clients. Temperatures can be documented in the air, and actively monitored in the transit warehouse and on the road. In instances of unwanted temperature deviations, Panalpina can intervene.
Panalpina is already working on an additional benefit for the many healthcare companies based in the San Juan area. “The temperature-sensitive cargo out of San Juan is currently moved in special containers that provide active cooling. But our controlled environment from door-to-door also enables us to transport goods using passive cooling, which could reduce cost and present another option for our customers. So we’re running tests and are in the process of auditing our passive cooling solution out of San Juan as well,” says Ricardo Ortiz who runs Panalpina’s operations in Puerto Rico.
The first freighter left San Juan for Europe on 13 July 2014, and the service now operates on a weekly basis on Sundays. Panalpina plans to further expand its own controlled air freight network by setting up similar first-time freighter services around the world in cooperation with core carriers such as Cargolux who can meet Panalpina’s demanding quality and service requirements. “Establishing these unique freighter routes puts us in an unrivalled position to best serve our customers’ needs,” concludes Frey.
A special container with temperature controlled pharmaceuticals inside is loaded onto one of the first cargo-only flights from San Juan to Europe. Panalpina is also working on a cost-saving passive cooling solution out of San Juan.
Panalpina’s own controlled air freight network is an international transport network of regular freighter flights. The network uses cargo-only aircraft, either leased or chartered – depending on the route and customer need. It is designed for goods that require special handling, transportation and storage. The biggest benefit of the network is control, for example when handling temperature-sensitive cargo for healthcare customers. Panalpina not only controls cargo in the air, but the company designs and oversees processes on the ground as well – be it at airports, in transit warehouses or on the road in pre- and on-carriage. This ensures the best possible control from door-to-door. The own controlled network accounts for up to 15% of Panalpina’s air freight each year.