Monday, November 23, 2020

Govt mulls air freight stations for fast transportation of Covid-19 vaccine: Report

The race to find a coronavirus vaccine may have intensified, but the smooth distribution of the vaccine remains a cause of concern for many countries. 
India, with its enormous population, can face a humungous challenge while distributing the Covid-19 vaccine, and that is why the government is mulling regulatory changes to quicken the procedure of its transportation, according to a report by the Business Standard. 
The government is planning to set up air freight stations (AFS), an off-airport common user facility that offers service for handling and temporary storage of import and export cargo, for direct movement of vaccines from pharmaceutical factories to the aircraft. As per the plan, export and import clearances for cargo, including Customs activities will be provided at the AFS and it will be constructed near the sites of vaccine production. 
Other crossborder regulatory agencies such as the plant quarantine office and drug controller office will also be accommodated in the AFS. This move will help to reduce the dwell time, the time that a cargo consignment takes to leave the airport premises after obtaining all the Customs permits and security clearances. 
As per reports, in airports like Delhi and Mumbai, it takes more than 75 hours for a cargo consignment to get clearance whereas it is less than six hours in Singapore, Dubai, and Hong Kong airports. “We are discussing if it is possible to move vaccines directly from the factory to the aircraft. We are also discussing the concept and procedure with security agencies like the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security and Customs,” before adding that it is necessary for the vaccine to quickly reach to the aircraft from the manufacturing sites. 
The government is already planning to vaccinate a large population by mid-2021 and has formed a task force to carry out the operation. A sub-committee of this task force is focusing on building cold storage facilities and smooth transfers of vaccines from airports to vaccination centres. The Airports Authority of India’s (AAI’s) subsidiary AAI Cargo Logistics and Allied Services Company may be tasked with building the AFS if permitted by the government. 
The task force has also asked the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to ensure a faster approval process for overflight and landing permits for foreign freighter jets carrying vaccines. But, executives of private airports are learnt to have opposed the move. “Commercial business viability would be a challenge for airport operators as well as for AFS operators. Both will offer similar services, leading to work duplication, impacting the viability of airports that have invested in building cold chains,” an executive of a private airport told the publication. 
 23/11/20 Deccan Herald
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