"Etihad Cargo’s PharmaLife product has exponentially grown over the past year, and growth will trigger more physical ties between US and UAE."
How did Etihad Cargo perform since 2021?
Globally, Etihad Cargo performed well in 2021 and 2022 due to the global environment. The Covid-19 pandemic highly impacted global air traffic, and Air Cargo was a lifeline for Etihad Airways in 2021. Since then, our pharmaceutical and cool chain operations have significantly increased, both in volume and revenue. We have heavily invested in three main areas: Training, infrastructure and collaboration. In 2023, we want to ensure that if any crisis should occur, we will be better prepared. Digitalization will be key, so we strive to dematerialize and simplify the flow of our pharmaceutical deliverables as much as possible.
What was your role in distributing the Covid-19 vaccine, and how do you keep improving ahead of the potential next pandemic?
In 2020 we co-created the HOPE Consortium, a unique consortium in which we offered our help to the global community to lead vaccine distribution until 2022. With the HOPE Consortium, we created a unique ecosystem from a logistics point of view, which was possible through collaboration with the government and businesses. Overall, 260 million Covid-19 vaccine doses were distributed to more than 60 different countries through the HOPE Consortium, which is remarkable.
To ensure we are ready should another pandemic arise, we are continuing to work closely with regional and international partners. For the past three years, we have been actively participating in a fantastic pharmaceutical association called Pharma.Aero. In 2021, we signed a global MOU between the full Abu Dhabi life sciences and Belgian ecosystems.
Can you highlight a segment of the pharmaceutical industry that relies on PharmaLife?
Cell and gene therapy is a good example, as the logistics around that technology are very impactful in terms of physical flow. These are very small packages, highly valuable treatments, the size of a mail with high temperature and cleanliness requirements, with no room for error. Thinking about these logistical constraints now is essential before cell and gene therapy become as big as experts expect: The industry is forecasted to be worth US$30 billion in a few years. We can leverage pharmaceutical shipments to enhance research in terms of packing, tracking, and tracing because there are clear requirements.
Can you speak to recent technological investments you made?
When it comes to air cargo transportation, you need an airway bill that represents heavy documentation, and tons of paper. So, a key initiative for us is the dematerialization of the airway bill, which we call an e-airway bill. We achieved in just one year a remarkable penetration; more than 85% of airway bills were electronic in 2021, and now we are above 90%. This fits into our sustainability efforts: the more weight we can remove on board, the better for the environment. The MOU between UAE and Belgium includes an initiative called Pharma Corridor 2.0, which means every shipment in the corridor is transparent, with real-time location and temperature, and is monitored in a preventive and reactive mode through a dedicated Control Tower. This is new in the industry, and we want to enlarge this corridor to several stations.
Where does the US fit within your longer-term strategy?
The US remains key inbound and outbound for the pharma market. We are connecting to and from the US with a full freighter service on top of our passenger schedule five times a week from Abu Dhabi- Frankfurt- Chicago, and are keen on developing partnerships. We will double our capacity to JFK soon. We are working closely with a few pharma firms to look at their logistics towards Asia, Europe and the Middle East. From an Abu Dhabi global life sciences perspective, you will find a Cleveland clinic and a partnership with NYU. On the academic side, for R&D in pharma and logistics, there is room for improvement between Etihad and the US. The relationship between the US and the UAE can only grow. Etihad Cargo’s PharmaLife product has exponentially grown over the past year, and growth will trigger more physical ties between the countries. There is one regarding DNA R&D, and we have in Abu Dhabi one of the biggest laboratories worldwide capable of sequencing 40,000 DNA p/m, and that is already creating synergies with the US.