American expands Phila. airport facility for cold freight

Ron Foster works on a refrigeration condenser unit outside the new cold storage facitlity in Cargo City.
Ron Foster works on a refrigeration condenser unit outside the new cold storage facitlity in Cargo City. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 27, 2014

American Airlines and its merger partner, US Airways, are renovating a warehouse at Philadelphia International Airport to include refrigeration for pharmaceuticals and other health-care products.

When it opens this fall, the temperature-controlled plant will be able to handle four to five times the current amount of perishable, time-sensitive, and valuable airfreight, including vaccines and blood products, that arrive and leave in the belly of planes on US Airways and American passenger flights.

The Philadelphia region is home to many pharmaceutical companies. Finished medicines and raw pharmaceutical ingredients constitute a major part of the airport's freight.

"A lot of the products coming to Philadelphia today are coming through John F. Kennedy and Newark airports because they have the capacity and types of cold-storage facilities that can support those goods," said Rhett Workman, American's managing director of government and airport affairs.

"With this facility, we can bring the goods directly into Philadelphia, and accommodate a lot more of them than we ever could," he said.

American's cargo customers include Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Pfizer, Merck, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline, and Ivax, the airline said. The companies work with freight forwarders to manage their cold-chain logistics serving markets around the world.

The facility, in Cargo City, off I-95, will provide cold storage at three temperature ranges: 15 degrees to 25 degrees Celsius (59 to 77 Fahrenheit); 2 degrees to 8 degrees Celsius (36 to 46); and a "deep frozen" area of zero degrees to minus-20 degrees Celsius (from 32 down to minus-4).

"Pharmaceuticals are the high-value bread-and-butter part of your cargo business," Workman said. "The new facility will allow us to handle a variety of goods at varying temperatures."

American is spending from $4 million to $5 million to retrofit a portion of Building C-7 that previously housed aircraft ground-support equipment. The location is next to a FedEx facility, fronts a public road, and backs onto the airport airfield.

US Airways already has 1,800 square feet of cold storage plus three refrigerated trucks in a separate building that will continue to handle perishable cargoes, such as tropical fish, flowers, lobster, and fresh fruit.

The additional 9,000 square feet of refrigeration will be dedicated to vaccines, blood products, gene therapies, tissues, insulin, eye-care products, recombinant therapeutic protein and living cells, immunotherapies, and raw pharmaceutical ingredients, the airline said.

United Parcel Service and FedEx have sizable airfreight operations at Philadelphia, but not cold storage capacity of this size, said Pat Fallon, manager of corporate real estate for American.

GlaxoSmithKline, which employs 5,000 in the Philadelphia area, said through a spokeswoman, Jennifer Armstrong: "We commend American Airlines for taking a leadership position in supporting the growing demand for temperature control infrastructure at major transportation gateways."

The U.K.-based drug maker said many of its U.S. temperature-controlled products now come through other gateways. "We do move some freight through the Philadelphia airport and hope to take advantage of this new facility as opportunities arise," Armstrong said.

US Airways' daily flight from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Philadelphia often carries pharmaceuticals.

Teva, based in Israel, is the world's leader in generic pharmaceutical revenue. Teva's Americas headquarters is in North Wales, Montgomery County.

The new cold storage facility will have a backup power supply in case of an electrical outage to keep the pharmaceuticals at the set temperatures.

"It's a substantial benefit to our cargo operation," Workman said. "It will drive, over the next year or two, a lot of business around the airport as companies in Philadelphia realize that they can do their shipping directly from here for a wide variety of goods."


comments powered by Disqus