Lufthansa Cargo stations its own fleet of "Opticoolers"at HYD. The containers maintain a permanent temperature between 2 and 30 degrees Celsius and are an essential component to ship pharmaceuticals around the world.
Photo credit: Lufthansa Cargo
Inside the Air Cargo Complex is the 1,400-square-foot Pharma Zone, specially designed to handle 30,000 metric tons of such temperature-sensitive shipments as bulk drugs, raw pharmaceutical materials, medicines and vaccines annually.
Photo credit: GMR Group
The Rajiv Gandhi International Airport's Air Cargo Complex was built in 2008 and is operated jointly by Menzies Aviation Plc and HYD's management company.
Photo credit: GMR Group
The Pharma Zone is a dedicated temperature-controlled handling facility for exporting pharmaceuticals. The facility features two cooling chambers with different temperatures – one for storing pharmaceuticals at a range of 15 degrees Celsius and 25 degrees Celsius and another for storing even more sensitive products at between 2 degrees Celsius and 8 degrees Celsius.
Photo credit: GMR Group
The Pharma Zone also feature a ball-matting system for storing the ULDs, which could weigh between 800 kilograms to 4,000 kilograms once the freight is ready to move from the terminal to the aircraft.”
Photo credit: GMR Group
Display units display ambient temperature and room temperature. FDA-approved data loggers record temperature.
Photo credit: GMR Group
Hyderabad is India’s pharmaceutical capital. The city’s so-called “Genome Valley” spreads out over more than 600 square kilometers ((232 square miles) and provides companies such as USP, Novartis, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, Agilent, Biological E Limited, Shantha Biotechnics, Bharath Biotech, Matrix Laboratories and Krebs Biochemical with needed research, training, collaboration and manufacturing activities.
More than 100 companies operate out of the Genome Valley today.
The city’s Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (HYD) further strengthens this growing, local enterprise with strong, global footprints. In just four years of operation, HYD created a strong pull for foreign cargo carriers as demand for capacity to transport the region’s array of pharmaceutical products increases.
For one, Germany’s Lufthansa Cargo, the world’s largest cargo carrier, recently established a strong presence at HYD, particularly in the niche area of temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical shipments:
Lufthansa Cargo and HYD management firm, GMR Hyderabad International Airport Ltd. (GHIAL), set the stage in December 2010 when the two companies inked a memorandum of understanding aimed at jointly developing the airport’s existing cargo facility to handle temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical shipments.
“The transport of temperature-sensitive cargo places great requirements on airlines as well as on airports,” said Martin Schlingensiepen, Lufthansa Cargo’s vice president of product management at the signing ceremony. “While outside temperatures at airports may range from minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit) to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), the temperature inside the containers may only fluctuate minimally in order not to damage such sensitive freight.”
The MoU served as a framework for both sides to set up modern infrastructure and consistent procedures at HYD to provide reliable, temperature-controlled transportation solutions.
Under the terms of the MoU, for example, Lufthansa Cargo agreed to station its own fleet of special cooling containers called “Opticoolers” at HYD.
Lufthansa’s Opticoolers are able to maintain a permanent temperature as low as 2 Celsius (35 degrees Fahrenheit). What’s new about the container is the compressor technology. All the Opticooler needs is electricity to charge the accumulators embedded in the device’s floor. The charging process takes between five to eight hours. Once fully charged, the batteries can run for 100 hours.
The containers are controlled by external temperature sensors for recording the ambient temperature, several sensors for the freight compartment in order to maintain the required temperature range and one temperature sensor in the technical compartment of each unit.
In turn, GHIAL agreed to streamline customs and other regulatory procedures at HYD to guarantee less bureaucratic red tape and, more importantly, build a dedicated climate-controlled site within its existing cargo facility.
By January 2011 Hyderabad Menzies Air Cargo Pvt. Ltd. (HMACPL) had accomplished just that and officially opened the “Pharma Zone” within its existing Air Cargo Complex at HYD.
HMACPL, a joint venture between international ground handler Menzies Aviation and GHIAL, originally built the cargo facility in 2008 and has managed cargo operations ever since. Since the first plane landed at HYD on March 14, 2008, overall cargo activity has increased by more than 40 percent.
The Pharma Zone is India’s first such airport-based, temperature-controlled facility. It takes up 1,400 square meters (15,069 square feet) inside the 14,330-square-meter (154,246-square-foot) building and is designed to handle 30,000 metric tons (33,069 tons) of pharmaceutical shipments annually.
Dedicated truck docks for acceptance, floor level weighing provisions at acceptance and seamless cold chain facility during the entire handling process are some of the highlights.
In particular, the zone features two cooling chambers with different temperatures – one for storing pharmaceuticals at a range of 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit)and 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees) and another for storing even more sensitive products such as vaccines at between 2 degrees Celsius (35 degrees Fahrenheit) and 8 degrees Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit). Data loggers are stationed throughout the zone’s key areas and can provide instant, up-to-date reports as needed for customers.
Sudeep Narayan, general manager for cargo at The GMR Group, which holds a majority stake in GHIAL, described the general procedures:
“What we call the nonsterile area is where the cargo is stored prior to build up and unitization in aircraft containers,” Narayan says. “And it’s also the area where cargo is stored prior to clearing customs.”
This is where the two cooling chambers come into play and both feature racking systems to make inspection an easier and faster process.
“The sterile area is where the cargo is stored after customs and regulatory clearance for export and also after unitization and build up in the ULDs, but prior to moving everything from the building to the aircraft,” he added.
The zone also features a ball-matting system for storing the ULDs.
“This is primarily to ease movement and avoid damage to the ULDs,” Narayan adds, “which could weigh between 800 kilograms (1,764 pounds) to 4,000 kilograms (8,818 pounds) once the freight is loaded and ready to move from the terminal to the dollies that transport these units to the aircraft.”
In the last few months of 2011, the airport and cargo managers saw such robust growth trends in use of the Pharma Zone that they’ve already started planning an expansion of the zone.
“The Indian pharmaceutical industry today ranks as the third largest in the world by volume,” says Hemanth DP, GHIAL chief operating officer, “and is expected to touch $20 billion by 2015.”
Some statics underscore the reasons for the Pharma Zone’s early and continued success:
• 70 percent of exports from HYD are pharmaceuticals.
• Around 1,600-1,800 metric tons (1,763- 1,984 tons) of pharmaceuticals are exported every month from HYD.
• Currently only 15 percent of the world’s total pharmaceutical cargo exports are moved under temperature-controlled handling. However, that percentage is bound to increase as international regulatory agencies introduce tighter controls that will encourage the use of such facilities as the HYD Pharma Zone.
“The effort is now on developing the hub-and-spoke model initiated by Lufthansa,” says Vikram R. Jaisinghani, GHIAL chief executive officer. “We are confident that pharmaceutical exports will gradually increase from Hyderabad with the drug manufacturers in other parts of the country using feeder routes to bring their products to Hyderabad for export.”
Finally, last May Lufthansa Cargo certified GHIAL to be one of its key cargo hubs in South Asia for the transport of temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals. This was India’s first airport to enjoy such status.
Lufthansa currently operates three freighters to the airport every week, with plans to increase the frequency at a later date.
“In the last three years, temperature-sensitive cargo reflected a 40 percent growth year-over-year in Asia while in India it was about 170 percent,” said Christopher Dehio, senior manager for global key account for Lufthansa Cargo, during the certification ceremony. “For us, India is a focus market and a source for cargo. We will be using the facility to help consolidate air cargo from different destinations.”
Lufthansa Cargo typically flies the freight to Frankfurt Airport, and from there the parcels join its global network that connects 300 destinations worldwide.
Paul Smith, chief executive officer of HMACPL says HYD has generated an “impressive business volume” in its cargo business since the Lufthansa certification with almost all of the region’s pharmaceutical companies consigning shipments through the Pharma Zone.
Smith says the United States is the most important market for India’s pharmaceutical exports. Europe comes in second followed by Africa and Russia.
“The pharmaceutical industry has not been affected by the economic downturn,” he adds. “After all, people tend to become sick and there will always be demand for pharmaceuticals.”
Over the years, India has also emerged as one of the world’s leading suppliers of generic drugs particularly for HIV treatment. These drugs are shipped to Africa by chartered flights.
“Without these generic drugs, HIV-affected people in many countries would suffer,” Smith claims. “Thus, HYD’s role is unique.”
Smith does expect competition for the business. He said the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai and the Chennai International Airport in Chennai are both likely to follow HYD’s example and set up similar pharmaceutical storage facilities.
About the Author: Manik Mehta is a New York-based journalist with extensive experience covering aviation, including ground support, airports, airlines, infrastructure and passenger/cargo traffic. From his New York base, Mehta travels frequently to Europe and Asia.