Supply Chain Risk: COVID-19’s Continued Impact on Airfreight and Cold Chain Logistics

August 10, 2021

Author: Tony Dellumo, Marketing Manager at QProducts & Services


Supply Chain Risk: COVID-19’s Continued Impact on Airfreight and Cold Chain Logistics


By Tony Dellumo – Marketing Manager, QProducts & Services


Prior to COVID-19, 20K airplanes were in the air globally, on any given day. According to Time Magazine, when COVID-19 hit, 16K were grounded. In the U.S. alone, air travel dropped 95%. Globally it dropped 62%,  thus effectively stopping air cargo transportation as we know it.


In the meantime, the need for medication, medical devices, PPE, food, water, and other necessities remained. We started seeing passenger aircraft being repurposed into cargo aircraft along with other efforts to try and keep the supply chain moving. Eventually, capacity for the transportation of goods across all modes of transportation, was at an all-time low.


Shortage of equipment like temp-controlled containers, major delays, and high prices stacked up to create tough scenarios for companies trying to keep their products moving out the door while maintaining product integrity and delivering in a timely manner. Delays were persistent and were scattered throughout the shipping process. “You could still book airfreight, but the carrier wasn’t showing show up in one or two days anymore. It could be six to seven days later before your freight went out the door. Once arriving at the airport, what once was a one or two-hour holding time had turned into six or seven hours before your cargo made it into the airport,” says Jim O’Donnell, Director of Pharma and Chemical Logistics at QPS. “This due to lack of staff, increased security protocols, etc., according to truck drivers.” With the tarmac backed-up with many flights’ worth of airfreight, cargo was subjected to double, even triple the normal tarmac time, putting freight at risk to the elements such as sun, wind, and moisture.


Manufacturers shipping by air were forced to use more robust protection to maintain temps with longer tarmac times. With even an extra half or full hour of tarmac time, the impact of the sun can be extreme. It seemed that shippers were scrambling to figure out how to work around delays by even changing the mode of transportation. Switching to ocean freight was an option but weighing longer transit times with quality risk and the customer service impacts of both, was yet another factor shippers were taking into consideration. With capacity for temperature-controlled shipping at its lowest levels compounded by COVID-19 vaccine distribution, passive thermal protection, a long-proven but under-utilized temp-control solution, was quickly becoming the saving grace of the global cold chain not only on the tarmac but over land and sea as well.


Fast forward to summer 2021. The supply chain landscape has changed forever. While transportation networks have adapted, adjusted, and even evolved into better versions of themselves in many ways, these impacts are still being felt and navigated around in a major way. With the COVID-19 Delta Variant now sweeping the mostly un-vaccinated globe, new lockdowns and travel restriction threaten to tighten the noose around the global supply chain once again, and companies with agile, flexible, and smart transportation networks will have the upper hand.


To find out how QProduct & Services can help give your transportation network the elasticity it needs to navigate obstacles in your supply chain, click here and tell us about your unique shipping challenges.


Wonder how COVID-19 provided an opportunity for cargo thieves? Check out the infographic here.