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COVID-19 Vaccine Is Precious Cargo at SEA

December 14, 2020

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is a critical link in the movement of domestic and international air cargo. Our airport provides a vital link between suppliers, ecommerce companies, local manufacturers and businesses to their markets. 

As an essential service, air cargo through SEA has been keeping goods flowing in and out of the Pacific Northwest since the onset of the pandemic. That includes carriers moving shipments of needed medical supplies like personal protective equipment, masks and ventilators into our region. A COVID-19 vaccine is the next step. 

COVID-19 vaccines coming to the PNW 

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has spent months preparing and planning for the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine. Shipments started arriving this week. 

According to the DOH, the federal government has given our state an initial estimated 62,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, with a future allocation n coming by the end of December to total around 222,000 doses. Additionally, DOH anticipates about 183,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine by the end of December. Regular weekly shipments should begin in January. 

Ultra-cold storage  

The COVID-19 vaccine must be stored and shipped at incredibly low temperatures, about 94 degrees below zero. News reports shared that Pfizer developed shipping containers using dry ice and GPS-enabled sensors to ensure each shipment ships cold, arrives cold, and stays cold.  

A cold-storage thermostat from the Air Cargo operations at SEA.
Cold-storage facilities from the Air Cargo operations at SEA.

SEA is ready 

While passenger volumes dramatically slowed this year, domestic air cargo is a bright spot of activity — up 14.4 percent in 2020 compared to last year.  

Last year, a total of 453,549 metric tons of air cargo moved through SEA — that’s the equivalent weight of almost one million grand pianos..  

We are ready for the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine and will provide the needed support to the air carriers and ground handling agents. Next stops for this precious cargo are 17 vaccination sites across 13 counties in the state.  

We are in great shape and ready to do more. 

Prime Air at SEA
E-commerce operations at SEA. This is not part of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Terrific track record  

SEA cargo shipments already include a high volume of pharmaceuticals because of the life sciences, biotech, and healthcare hub in our region. Pharmaceutical products were a top-five export at SEA in 2019 by value, totaling $425 million.    

Cargo is a huge part of our local economy. An estimated $12.7 billion worth of international air freight is exported through SEA each year, while another $13.6 billion is imported.   

air cargo data chart

Air cargo economic data 

  • Express air freight and ecommerce-related shipping make up the majority of domestic air freight volume. Most cargo travels primarily on  all-cargo freighter aircraft. Air freight shipped through SEA supports 119,685 jobs representing over $5.5 billion in wages and salaries and $521 million in state and local taxes.  
  • The total economic value in Washington state associated with the air freight processed at the airport is estimated to be $22.7 billion. 
  • Cargo is efficient. Cargo shipped in the belly of passenger aircraft represents a third of total cargo at SEA and over half of all international cargo.  
  • Every leading local industry requires access to cargo. The Puget Sound Region is home to global leaders in ecommerce, pharmaceuticals, commercial aerospace, high-tech manufacturing, seafood products, and high-value agriculture. These industries depend on access to reliable global and domestic connections to reach sales customers and consumer market.  

SEA cargo facilities highlights 

  • Service from multiple nonstop air freight services and belly cargo capacity on numerous nonstop wide-body passenger flights 
  • Cargo area hardstand parking for 17 widebody aircraft 
  • More than 200 acres of land for airport-related logistics park development 
  • Onsite federal inspection services including Customs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA, FDA, CDC, and TSA 
  • Excellent surface transportation connections, with close proximity to two major West Coast seaports 
  • Seattle is located midway between Asia and Europe, and offers similar flight times to both continents 
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