As the transportation of the COVID-19 vaccine unfolds, Ethiopian Airlines is positioned to take a leading role in the vaccine’s distribution to global pharmaceutical chains. In an interview with Reuters, the airline’s representatives predict that demand for this service will remain in the market for the next three years.

In an agreement made in December 2020, with Cainiao Network, the logistics arm of China’s Alibaba Group, the airline is positioned to transport pharmaceuticals, including vaccines through an international cold chain from China.

“This vaccine will be transported for the coming two to three years and we will be the major player of transportation of vaccines,” commented Fitsum Abadi, managing director of Ethiopian Cargo.

While tapping into its fleet of 128 Boeing, Airbus and Bombardier aircraft, Ethiopian Airlines has established a dedicated vaccine transportation team to liaise with manufacturers, added Fitsum. According to the agreement with Cainiao Network, temperature-regulated pharmaceuticals will be distributed twice a week from Shenzhen in southeastern China, to Africa through hubs in Dubai and Addis Ababa.

This comes after the airline delivered the first batch of 2.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Mumbai to Addis Ababa and Brazzaville on March 6. As reported by Logistics Update Africa, Tewolde GebreMariam, CEO of Ethiopian Airlines commented on the vaccine delivery flights stating, “We are glad that we have launched the delivery of our mission-critical service with the distribution of the much-anticipated Covid-19 vaccine. We will be repeating the remarkable and globally recognised success, in leading the fast delivery of PPE a few months ago, with similar delivery speed, professional handling and maintaining the cold chain during the global vaccine distribution. We have made enough preparations to transport the vaccines across the world.”

After adapting operations to cater and provide freight services amid the collapse of passenger traffic numbers in 2020, Ethiopian Airlines has garnered significant revenue from its cargo flights, allowing it to retain its position as one of the top airlines in the global market. As passenger numbers near 50% of pre-COVID levels, the airline's establishment of its state-of-the-art cargo terminal has enabled Ethiopian Cargo and Logistics Services to be instrumental in facilitating the flow of medical supplies and PPE across the globe in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.