Saturday, July 20, 2024
Keeping it cool in the Middle East

Keeping it cool in the Middle East

Emirates SkyCargo has sought to position itself as a leader in pharmaceutical transportation with a robust and innovative approach to its operations. 

The carrier’s commitment to pharmaceutical transportation dates back several years, with a significant leap in its offering when the airline enhanced facilities at both Dubai International Airport (DXB) and Dubai World Central (DWC). 

These state-of-the-art facilities are among the largest globally, allowing the airline to serve a large majority of the world’s population through swift deliveries, with 2.5 billion people living within a four hour flight from Dubai.

“The thing is that, whatever is going on in the world, there’s two things that keeps moving: Food and pharma. Those are the two biggest products that we move” Julian Sutch, head of Emirates SkyCargo’s pharmaceutical division, stated. 

It’s clear that the United Arab Emirates, and wider Middle East region, has embraced the opportunity to become a hub for pharmaceutical operations. 

Health and manufacturing have been growing sectors in the region, reflected in the role the UAE played in delivering vaccines around the globe, with the region receiving some of the first shipments in the world. 

“The UAE has been a step ahead of the others for some time now and Dubai has become a shining star for health and medical facilities,” Sutch stated. “We’re here to help develop the country’s vision.”

Growth trajectory

India stands out as a critical market for Emirates SkyCargo, representing 30% of its business, primarily, moving 500-600 tonnes of pharmaceuticals weekly. Europe follows closely, accounting for 20-25% of the carrier’s pharma exports, while the US has emerged as a rapidly growing market, prompting the opening of a dedicated pharma facility in Chicago.

“India and Europe make up a majority of our business. But then the US has been a very, very fast mover for us,” Sutch highlighted. “For the developing world, we have significant capacity and network in Africa.”

The airline credits its swift response to the Covid pandemic to its current position in the market. Emirates SkyCargo swiftly responded to the global health crisis by reallocating significant capacity to transport essentials, turning passenger planes into freighters and using their global network of hubs to secure a larger market share. 

“Since 2016, we have had double digit growth every year in our pharma division but the pandemic took it to another level,” he continued. “I had relationships with pharmaceutical manufacturers and those went into overdrive during the pandemic, having weekly calls to find out where they’re manufacturing and the capacity they need.”

“Once customers have had a taste of Emirates, its quality and service, it’s very difficult for them to then give it up and move back to other carriers,” he added.

READ: Emirates Post Group and Dronamics to explore implementing cargo drone deliveries

 Ice cold innovation

While Dubai’s warm climate presents a challenge for pharmaceutical transportation, Emirates SkyCargo has sought to embrace innovative solutions to tackle this situation. 

“The disadvantage that we have overcome is that, of course, it’s relatively warm in the summer, which is not great for pharmaceutical cargo,” Sutch said. “So, we’ve worked to mitigate that by building the biggest temperature control infrastructure in the world.”

“Suppliers are out there looking for the best technology out there, installation technology and cooling technology, to make sure that they can be have a great offering to the market,” he added. “There’s huge wastage every year from pharma not making it in the right condition, so our goal is to make sure we build better infrastructure.”

The airline’s investment is visible in the fleet of cool dollies that safeguard phama goods during the crucial transition from one aircraft to another or back and forth from their facilities. 

This has also been combined with targeted measures to fit Emirates SkyCargo’s global network, providing temperature controlled covers over all shipments to protect cargo globally, even when facilities are limited.

“In Dubai, we have everything under control. However, there are many places around the world where treatment needs to go to patients, so that means we need the infrastructure there,” he explained. “You’re only as good as your whole supply chain, so our big focus has been to partner with handlers and improve global infrastructure,” 

There are two elements Emirates SkyCargo focuses on here to address this: Ground handling infrastructure and potential suppliers. After identifying potential opportunities, the carrier will work with partners to build up the set-up to allow them to deliver their desired service level. 

READ: Emirates Group announces record half-year performance for 2023-24

Digital power

Digitalisation has also played a key role in supporting swift operations in locations where infrastructure is limited, providing customers with real-time notifications and presenting digital documentation to streamline clearance processes.

“As soon as that aircraft lands, it needs to be cleared, especially with pharma,” Sutch said. “People send things by air because they want swift deliveries, so speed is everything.”  

This is just one element of Emirate SkyCargo’s work to transition into the digital space, with the carrier also embracing online booking platforms to increase their connection to existing and potential customers.

“The world’s gone digital but cargo has always been slightly behind the game. We should really know from when the pharmaceuticals are picked up from the manufacturer to when they are handed over to the patient, what temperature it’s at and the equipment used,” Sutch explained. “Digitalisation will create a window of vision, so we can see everything at once.”

Picture of Edward Hardy

Edward Hardy

Having become a journalist after university, Edward Hardy has been a reporter and editor at some of the world's leading publications and news sites. In 2022, he became Air Cargo Week's Editor. Got news to share? Contact me on


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