Pacific Air Cargo transports vaccines to American Samoa

Los Angeles-based Pacific Air Cargo transported its first shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to American Samoa’s capital Pago Pago (PPG) from Honolulu (HNL) on Dec. 12, the carrier confirmed to Air Cargo World.

Pacific Air Cargo Flight

Pacific Air added it expects additional shipments into Honolulu this week, and to continue shipping to Pago Pago and into Guam. As a regular cargo operator to American Samoa, Pacific Air transports medicine there “on a weekly basis,” according to CEO Tanja Janfruechte.

Before the pandemic, Pacific Air’s operations included six weekly round-trip flights between Los Angeles (LAX) and HNL using a Kalitta-owned and operated 747 freighter. Pacific Air also partners with Asia Pacific Airlines, which operates the weekly 757 freighter service between HNL and PPG for Pacific Air. The carrier’s service to Guam and Hawaii’s outer islands are via interline agreements, said Janfruechte.

Ahead of vaccine shipments, Pacific Air transported other pandemic shipments to Hawaii, including personal protective equipment and COVID-19 testing kits during the early months of increased demand for those shipments. Some early shipments were pro bono in partnership with the Honolulu Airport to help frontline staff, as PPE was in particularly short supply in Hawaii.

“We hauled a lot of masks and hand sanitizers for the Honolulu International Airport and we just did a couple of charters, in fact, for COVID test kits,” said Janfruechte in an interview with Air Cargo World. “So everything related to virus protection and, you know, COVID related, we’re hauling a lot of that. We partner with freight forwarders, so we don’t necessarily go out and sell to the shippers direct, we leave that up to our partners, the freight forwarders.”

The cargo carrier has a significant presence in Hawaii, which Janfruechte said is Pacific Air’s “bread and butter.” During the pandemic, Pacific Air worked with Kalitta to adjust the 747 freighter schedule after the decrease in passenger flights from the Asia-Pacific region into Hawaii led to a decline in capacity to Hawaii, where Pacific Air typically picked up volumes for transport to LAX. That led to a drop-off in cargo volumes on Pacific Air’s return flights from HNL to LAX.

“We arranged once a week, for them to take the airplane to Asia, so it flew into Honolulu on a Saturday and we wouldn’t see it again until Monday night out of [LAX], and we wouldn’t have to pay for the backhaul — it would be a one-way flight for us,” said Janfruechte, who added that the partnership and flexibility with Kalitta has “helped out the loss of volume and cost that we normally would have had to absorb out of Hawaii back to the mainland.”

Meanwhile, the flight leg into Honolulu has continued to see strong demand: “Demand out of LAX westbound into Hawaii has been very heavy,” which Janfruechte attributed to the drop in passenger flights between the mainland and Hawaii. Cargo that otherwise would have moved in the belly hold “has shifted over to the cargo operators.”