15 February 2023
PCM as a solution for perishable goods transport in aviation

20% of perishable shipments are unusable after transport because the cold chain is not properly maintained. In this article we highlight opportunities and challenges in the air transport of perishable goods and take you through the best ways to transport your goods fresh by air in different situations. Let’s get to it! 

Aviation PCM

Importance of effective supply chain management in aviation transportation 

Effective supply chain management has been the main theme in aviation over the past two to three years, as the coronavirus pandemic caused capacity problems and transport restrictions – resulting in significant food loss and waste. Fewer passenger flights took off, which also affected the transport of perishable goods, and border controls took longer, which can be disastrous for perishable goods. 

Food that is lost or wasted accounts for 8-10% of Global Greenhouse Gas emmisions (GHGs). A big difference can therefore be made with suitable transport and storage solutions. The pandemic once again reminded the airline transport industry of the importance of flexibility and responsiveness. 

Because even though the end user probably still used the same products: they ate their meals at home instead of in a restaurant and had medication delivered instead of picking it up. With major changes in the supply chain as a result. But inconsistencies in laws and regulations between countries also cause disruptions in the chain. 


Air transport of perishable goods 

With 59%, by far most kilometers in food transport are made overseas. This is followed by road (31%) and by train (10%). Aviation accounts for only 0.16% of food transport kilometers (Science, 2018). Within aviation, food transport occupies quite a large share: no less than 15% of global aviation consists of perishable goods. Not surprising, because due to the perishability, the goods often have to arrive at their destination as quickly as possible and air transport is ideal for this. 

If we look at tonnage, in 2022 mainly cut flowers, fish, peppers, vegetables and red fruit were transported in aviation. Data shows that most perishable goods are transported from the Netherlands to the United States. 


Points of attention when transporting perishable goods 

We see something as “perishable” when it deteriorates after a period of time due to exposure to external conditions such as moisture or extreme temperatures. Think for example of food products, flowers, living organisms and medicines. It is important that the cold chain is stable and not disturbed in order to maintain quality. 

Within aviation transport we can identify various challenges for maintaining the quality of these goods. Think of cold chain disruptions when transferring from one mode of transport to another, storage in between, timing and changing laws and regulations, or laws and regulations that are inconsistent between different geographical areas. Things you risk when your cold chain doesn’t function well, include texture degradation, discoloration, mold growth and damage of your goods. 


An effective cold chain in aviation transport 

The cold chain must ensure that perishable goods are safe and of good quality at the time of use or consumption by the end user. A temperature-controlled environment and good documentation and identifiability of the shipment are crucial for this. Tips for a stable cold chain in aviation transport: 

  • Use well-insulated packaging with temperature elements. You can choose to use insulating packaging boxes with gel packs at the desired temperature, but you can also pack your entire pallet of products. 
  • Map the entire journey: if the pallet has to be transferred from a truck into the aircraft hold, exposure to extreme temperatures can also take place here. 
  • Does the journey not connect seamlessly? Then consider storing your products in a cold store in between. Cold stores are available at most airports for the temporary storage of perishable goods. Often for a temperature of around 5 ºC, -18 ºC and -20 ºC. 


Phase Change Material in Aviation Transportation 

The packaging materials you need to transport your goods by air without loss of quality depend on the ideal temperature within the packaging and external conditions, such as very hot or cold weather at the destination. 


The appropriate solution in different situations: 

  • For frozen transport: Dry ice is a frequently used freezing agent for the transport of frozen products. However, in air transport there is a maximum amount of dry ice allowed and the prices and availability of dry ice are unpredictable. With PCM gel packs or PCM cooling elements you can transport your goods without loss of quality. Usually there is a critical upper temperature limit of -12 ºC when it comes to frozen food: safety and quality cannot be guaranteed if the contents of your package have exceeded this temperature. Coolpack offers solutions that guarantee long temperature stability below -12 ºC. Please note: the best result is achieved with freezer elements in combination with insulation packaging. The EcoFreezeBox has been developed especially for frozen transport. 
  • For chilled transport: For refrigerated shipping between 0 ºC and 8 ºC, it is best to choose regular gel packs or PCM gel packs of 1 ºC. The PCM gel packs of 1 ºC have an extra high heat capacity, which means that they achieve temperature stability for a longer period of time. Here too, we recommend using the coolants in combination with an insulating packaging box, such as an EPS box or the 100% paper-based EcoCoolBox. 
  • For transport at ambient temperature: Even if your products do not need to be kept cool, but must be transported and stored at a plus temperature, good insulating packaging is recommended. Coolpack also offers temperature elements for plus temperatures, such as +5 ºC, +18 ºC and +22 ºC. Ideal when, for example, you transport live animals or organisms such as coral that must not become too cold or hot. Our customers often use this in combination with the EcoCoolBox or an EPS tempex box. 
  • With large changes in ambient temperature: Are you transporting to or from a place where temperatures can be extreme? Whether this concerns very cold or very hot temperatures: we recommend using pallet covers. This is an insulating cover that you slide around your entire Euro pallet or Block pallet. In combination with the right temperature elements, you create a kind of mobile refrigerator. Customers who transport fragile fresh fruit all over the world with air transport literally reap the benefits of this: although external temperatures sometimes fluctuate enormously, the temperature inside the pallet cover remains stable for a long time. 


Digitization in aviation transport offers opportunities 

Imagine being able to precisely track your shipment of perishable goods and have insight into the environmental conditions, such as the temperature, inside your packaging during the entire journey. And that you know where the weaknesses in your cold chain are, so you don’t have to throw anything away anymore. It is possible! Coolpack likes to think along with you. For example, we previously integrated a chip in shipping packaging, together with one of our partners. 

Curious about the possibilities? Get in touch! The Coolpack team is happy to think along with you.