On March 31, 2021, Ethiopian Airlines transported 1,056,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses from Beijing to Harare via the carrier’s cargo terminal in Addis Ababa. The doses, in six ULD Envirotainers equipped with temperature regulation systems for pharmaceutical cargo, were shipped on a single A350-900 flight. 

Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, chosen as the humanitarian air hub for medical supply distribution on the African continent, has played a key role in the vaccine rollout across the continent. This is backed by its favourable geographic location and by the Ethiopian Cargo and Logistics Services ‘pharma wing’ - the largest cargo terminal on the continent.

Through its hub in Addis Ababa, Ethiopian Airlines has been leading vaccine deliveries on the continent, including the delivery of 300,000 doses on March 30, 2020, to Ethiopia, through a donation from the Chinese government. In early March 2021, the carrier delivered the first batch of 2.2 million doses from Mumbai to Addis Ababa.

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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 Reute
 

“Today, we have delivered more than 1 million vaccine doses to Zimbabwe, Harare, which is indicative of our commitment to collaborate with African governments at this critical time so that Africans get access to vaccines in due time,” said Ethiopian Airlines Group CEO Tewolde GebreMariam. “Our efficiency in cargo transportation is growing from time to time enabling us to reach as many countries as possible. We are desirous of reaching every corner of the world with our dependable freight service.”

The carrier’s operations in vaccine distribution across its cold chains are firmed by its positioning in global pharmaceutical logistics chains and established agreements with freight organisations such as Cainiao Network, the logistics arm of China’s Alibaba Group. 

This taps into Ethiopian Airlines cargo fleet of 25 pax-to-cargo aircraft, which recently received a newly converted Boeing 737-800SF passenger-to-freighter aircraft from GA Telesis on March 26, 2021. A second Boeing 737-800, currently undergoing pax-to-cargo conversion, is expected to join its fleet in May 2021.