Cristina Onate, VP of Marketing and Product Management, LATAM Cargo

Has there ever been a more challenging time for pharmaceutical supply chains? In the wake of the pandemic, while healthcare professionals are on a war footing to treat the skyrocketing number of infected patients, supply chain disruption is wreaking havoc in the pharmaceutical industry. With global lockdowns in play, most countries are on a virtual standstill, but vital medicines and healthcare materials are still required to be delivered globally to people in need. However, many drugs and life-saving vaccines are delicate and extremely sensitive to temperature deviations and hence need a strict temperature-controlled environment for transportation. Therefore, the pharmaceutical industry requires strict and detailed cold-chain workflows and processes for the transportation of these sensitive and delicate shipments. A company that has emerged as an ideal solution for the transportation of such pharmaceuticals and related health care products in accordance with the highest international standards is LATAM Cargo.

LATAM Cargo is LATAM Airlines Group’s business unit specialized in air cargo transportation. Through its strategic, collaborative logistics and transportation services, the leading company is helping pharmaceutical companies get life-saving medicines and vaccines to people in need despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis. It provides both pharma passive and active solutions with different temperature ranges and leasing options that meet the specific requirements for each shipment. Born in 1929 in South America, the LATAM Airlines Group operates in five South American domestic markets: Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, in addition to international flights within South America and flights to the US, Europe, the Caribbean, Oceania, Africa, and Asia, based on pre-COVID itineraries. “Cargo has always been part of our DNA. Having our roots in South America, our main objective is to deliver the best service and network to our clients to, from, and within South America,” opines Cristina Onate, VP of Marketing and Product Development for LATAM Cargo. 

Transporting Pharmaceuticals and Vaccines to, from and within South America

South America presents various challenges to pharmaceutical supply chains; notably climate and infrastructure. With LATAM Cargo Group’s vast understanding of the region, it is able to offer the best service for transporting pharmaceuticals and vaccines to, from, and within the region in perfect conditions. “We understand the challenges that transporting pharmaceuticals presents in our region and we are familiar with the numerous strict regulatory procedures designed to minimize potential temperature excursions that are critical to the shipment’s integrity,” affirms Cristina.

As a sign of its commitment and expertise in the pharmaceutical industry, LATAM Cargo became the first airline in the Americas to obtain the IATA certification for PHARMA shipments (CEIV) in 2017. IATA’s certification ensures that its PHARMA processes are aligned with the industry’s best practices and standards. Also, it is currently the only South American airline to hold the CEIV PHARMA certification. In addition to its specific PHARMA product, LATAM Cargo has a PHARMA network that is expanded every year based on its clients’ needs. Today, it has more than 30 PHARMA stations within its network. 

Placing Clients at the Forefront

Besides its ample product portfolio, cargo fleet, belly capacity, and high-performing teams, what makes LATAM Cargo stand apart from the rest is its client-centric approach. Over the past decade, LATAM Cargo’s approach has been driven by a client-focused strategy—placing the client at the forefront of its decision making paired with an excellent service, together with a focus on long-term sustainability. The company understands that this industry is always evolving and thus, it strives to comprehend its client’s needs and become flexible in terms of designing solutions that fulfill those needs. Additionally, as part of the long-lasting relationship that it aims to build with the pharmaceutical clients, it continues expanding its offering to adapt to the changing pharma business needs. For instance, it has increased its container leasing options to improve its product offering and provide sufficient and diverse choices to fulfill its client’s requirements.

Supporting the Industry and Clients in Critical Time

When the pandemic started, LATAM Cargo helped its operating region to sustain its imports and exports sectors through prompt operations and network adjustments. Looking at the increasing volume of pharmaceuticals transported to South America during the pandemic, the company also strengthened its training and processes to ensure the same high standards while gearing up to face the “challenge of the century” —the transportation of COVID-19 vaccines. 

The company started preparing for this challenge in mid-2020 by creating a task force internally known as Project Hope. This group, which consists of more than 20 people, worked on developing and implementing the best air freight solution to transport COVID vaccines from the main points of origin in Europe, North America, and Asia to South America. In addition, this task force assessed and prepared its operation in the domestic South American markets. To achieve this, it strengthened its partnerships throughout the pharmaceutical supply chain and established closer communication and collaboration protocols. Also, as part of its Shared Value program, it contributed to the fight against COVID-19 in its region, by making available its pharma expertise and offering its domestic networks for the free transportation of vaccines in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru in its Solidarity Plane. As a result, LATAM Cargo started moving vaccines by the end of 2020 and since then it has moved more than 117 million vaccines, out of which:  more than 50 million vaccines shipped internationally and more than 64 million vaccines domestically.

“We have successfully transported COVID vaccines from different laboratories to 7 South American countries. This could be accomplished thanks to our robust pharma network, our certified and proven expertise, and impeccable delivery of the range of services demanded; from pharma in active containers to pharma in specialized passive packaging of different temperature ranges,” asserts Cristina.

Creating Roadmap for Better Services

Looking ahead, the company believes that some of the standards established for COVID-19 vaccines will become the norm in the coming years. And this will increase demand for stricter processes and further visibility of shipment status. So, based on the experience in transporting COVID-19 vaccines and other pharmaceuticals during these challenging times, it believes that partnerships and collaborations between the different players in the logistics chain (laboratories, forwarders, GHAs, and airlines) will play a key role in the post-pandemic world. Also, the ability to quickly adapt to a continuously changing business environment, while maintaining the highest service performance, is vital moving forward. “The experience gained during the transportation of COVID-19 vaccines, combined with our growing Pharma network and CEIV Pharma certified products, positions us in a solid place to face the new challenges that the transportation of pharmaceuticals may bring after the pandemic,” adds Cristina.

In 2021, LATAM Cargo opened 8 new stations on 3 different continents, and in the next 3 years, it also plans to gradually add 10 Boeing 767-300 Converted Freighters to its fleet, totaling a fleet of up to 21 cargo aircraft by the end of 2023. “This capacity growth will push us forward to establish ourselves as the main cargo group in South America and continue to fulfill the clients’ needs with an ample and robust network,” concludes Cristina. 

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