Since the end of 2020, Chilean authorities have been deploying helicopters and aircraft to distribute Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines in different regions of the country. This airlift includes a BK117 from the Prefectura Aérea de Carabineros and a Chilean Navy AS365 Panther.
The H125 offers many benefits for getting vaccines to remote and high-altitude locations.
José Luis Bendicho, Suma Air’s General Manager
The transportation of vaccines requires storage temperatures between +2 and -70 degrees Celsius, depending on the ingredients used for their immunisation technology. Dry ice – the frozen form of CO2 – enables their shipment at -70 degrees Celsius, which is necessary for RNA-based vaccines when they will not be used within a few days.
Helicopters are the last leg in the chain of transportation and often deliver vaccines that are administered to patients within a few days. For this reason, they are not usually called upon to transport vaccines that require ultra-cold temperatures. However, they have been on occasion, and are up to the challenge when necessary.
As dry ice is considered hazardous due to the potential of excessive CO2 is concentration, the airlift of cold-storage COVID-19 vaccines aboard helicopters follows the same rules as in the transport of dangerous goods on airplanes – and requires additional precautionary measures from operators.
Airbus Commercial Aircraft has issued an information pack for operators that includes an updated “Service Information Letter” (SIL) with the company’s input on airworthiness authorities’ recommendations for transporting dry ice in larger quantities. It reminds operators of the health and safety considerations/measures (particularly regarding ventilation) to be respected during the loading and airlift of vaccines packed in dry ice. In particular, the information includes guidance on limits for amounts of dry ice in accordance with regulations.