American Airlines is building storage center for pharmaceuticals in Philadelphia

 Cargo is big business for American Airlines and US Airways. Photo: Daniel Foster/Flickr, via Creative Commons. 

Cargo is big business for American Airlines and US Airways. Photo: Daniel Foster/Flickr, via Creative Commons. 

American Airlines is constructing a warehouse for pharmaceuticals at its Philadelphia hub, which will greatly increase the amount of temperature sensitive products the carrier can transport. 

Cargo can be big business for airlines, but only if carriers can ensure companies that they can keep the product -- whether it's drugs or fresh produce -- cold throughout the entire journey. If the cold chain is broken at any point, the product can be ruined. That's something I learned last year when I wrote a story about fresh California berries shipped abroad by major airlines. 

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, American is building this new Philadelphia facility in part to service existing drug company customers. They include Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Pfizer, Merck, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline, and Ivax, the airline told the newspaper. 

"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 Inquirer reported in its story in August.

From what I understand, pharmaceuticals are more profitable for airlines than other items that must be kept cold, like strawberries or asparagus. "Pharmaceuticals are the high-value bread-and-butter part of your cargo business," Rhett Workman, American's managing director of government and airport affairs, told the newspaper. "The new facility will allow us to handle a variety of goods at varying temperatures."

In a March speech, American COO Robert Isom told the World Cargo Symposium in Los Angeles that cargo generates more than $800 million annually for the carrier. 

“We know that pharmaceutical cargo is one of the fastest growing markets – as economies evolve, they require vaccines and medicines,” Isom said in his speech, as quoted by Air Cargo World. "These are products that are time and temperature sensitive, and air cargo is the best and most efficient way to transport them."