National capitals IGI Airport is gearing up to be at the frontline of India's upcoming offensive against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Accordingly, the GMR operated airport, which played a pivotal role in supply of PPEs in the past several months, is now preparing to handle the precious, temperature-controlled cargo carrying anti-Covid-19 vaccines.
Expected to be flown out from pharma hubs in Pune and Hyderabad, these vaccines hold the promise to unshackle India from the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Delhi Airport is fully prepared and geared up for phase-2 fight against this pandemic to facilitate handling and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines as soon as it is launched," said Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL) CEO Videh Kumar Jaipuriar.
The task of handling such a precious cargo would require human and physical infrastructure for proper transport, storage and delivery to the end-users.
Consequently, the Delhi airport initiated training of its resources, set up a coordination facility with stakeholders of the entire supply chain network and even carried out drills using state-of-the-art equipment.
At present, the airport's facilities are capable of transporting cargo in a temperature-controlled environment right from the freighters' belly to storage docks and finally to the end-destination bound trucks.
Not just Delhi, its surrounding areas or the whole of northern region but the airport is set to play a major role in transshipment of these vaccines to almost 70 domestic and international destinations.
With the impending task at hand, Delhi Airport authorities are leaving nothing to chance.
Special drills are being carried out with focus given to provide training to resources for efficient and safe handling of the Covid-19 vaccines. "We are instituting processes in association with clearing agencies for express movement of vaccines to and from the airport," he said.
"Provisions are being made for 24x7 operations of the cargo terminals to ensure that the services are available round the clock for uninterrupted supply chain and efficient operations," he added.
On the technical front, the DIAL, the company which runs IGI Airport here, will press into service two integrated cargo terminals.
The combined annual cargo handling capacity of the two terminals is 1.8 million MT which is scalable up to 2.3 million MT. This is expected to give a quantitative push to the whole exercise.
Besides, both the terminals sport GDP certified temperature controlled facilities for handling temperature sensitive cargo.
"The temperature controlled Cargo facilities have a capacity to handle over 1.5 lakh MT per annum."
"These facilities have state-of-the-art temperature controlled zones with separate cool chambers ranging from +250C to -200C."
Notably, the feature to handle temperature control cargo, gives the airport an edge as frontrunner vaccines expected to get the drug controllers go ahead for emergency usage require extremely low storage temperature.
"We are working on customised solutions to handle cargo at other temperature ranges as required," Jaipuriar elaborated.
In a mock scenario, the airport has shown how its airside infrastructure which features 12 dedicated freighter parking bays will be capable of seamlessly docking, loading and unloading of the vaccines with military precision.
Apart from docking, transport back and forth from aircraft belly area to the trucks in waiting are carried out by specially built wheeled containers known as 'Cool Dollies' at airside area to ensure unbroken cool chain.
Furthermore, adequate electricity for temperature controlled containers is provided trough out this journey inside the airport complex.
Moreover, dedicated gates are used for fast movement of vehicles carrying vaccines in and out of the airport.
"There is also a 'Truck Slot Management System' at the cargo terminals where facility is provided to pre-book the arrival of trucks at the terminal."
The airport plans to even utilise technology intervention to reduce human interface and save time by using India's first QR code based e-gate pass facility for delivery of cargo, thereby making paper documentation process automated.
Additionally, it is working along with other stakeholders in the supply chain, right from pharma companies, airlines, temperature controlled facilities suppliers, freight forwarders, temperature controlled transport service providers for uninterrupted services to the end users.
"Delhi Airport has played a critical role in nations' phase-1 war against Covid-19 pandemic and is now again ready to play a much larger role in phase-2," he added.
In the phase I of the anti Covid campaign the airport handled around 20-22 cargo flights per day (including non-scheduled operations), with freighters operating between various destinations like Doha, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Incheon, amongst others.
Earlier, the Centre had designated Delhi Airport as major hub for import and distribution of Covid-19 related medical essentials.
Apart from Delhi airport, Hyderabad International Airport Ltd (GHIAL) is also ready to handle export and import of Covid-19 vaccines.
Hyderabad is likely to emerge as a major port once the key manufacturers succeed with the ongoing human trials.
GHAC is in talks with various stakeholders towards meeting specific requirements of export and import of Covid-19 vaccines, including the challenge of having multiple range of cold and ultra-cold minus temperatures.
The two airports are expected to cover the almost entire country from North to South. In addition, other airports, airlines and agencies are also gearing up to take care of the vaccine demand.