In a business that is built around product quality, the cost of logistics failure is high, and shipping standards and best practices for transporting perishable via air cargo are crucial. In the early days of shipping perishables by air, little attention was given to handling practices or quality control. Product would sit on a hot tarmac for hours and cool warehouses nearby did not exist. Even today, the shipping of perishables via air can be uneven.

“Failures along the cold chain are, at times, due to improper documentation, labeling or poor packaging, and can be catastrophic for small businesses,” say officials at the International Air Transport Association (IATA). To solve the problem, best practices are critical to ensure stability in shipment and handling. Consequently, IATA has been working alongside aviation industry stakeholders and regulators to create the Center of Excellence for Independent Validators (CEIV) and in 2019 launched CEIV Fresh. The program helps the cargo industry meet requirements using IATA’s Perishable Cargo Regulations (PCR), which combines professional regulatory and operational input from industry and government experts.

Increasing numbers of companies have worked to become CEIV Fresh certified. The certification gives shippers assurance that CEIV Fresh certified companies are operating to the highest quality and standards in the transport of perishable products.

But certification is not easy to obtain. A host of requirements must be met to be certified and recertification is required every 36 months. This involves refresher training and re-checks to ensure compliance is continually fulfilled.

Recent Adjustments

Throughout 2022, IATA, with airlines, industry and regulators, has reviewed, developed and adjusted specific regulations and guidelines for the preparation, acceptance and handling of perishables. “Better tracking, collaboration and sustainability throughout the supply chain, along with technological improvements in packaging solutions for perishable and healthcare cargo, are some of the key elements that have been addressed for 2023,” IATA says.

For example, IATA added new definitions for aircraft unit load device (ULD) from the IATA ULD regulations and also added fresh-water products such as mollusks and shellfish to the type of perishables covered. The result is a new PCR manual available from IATA in January 2023. The manual is endorsed by the IATA Live Animals and Perishables Board and underpinned by the expertise of major airlines and scientific data supplied by research institutions.

IATA also is offering perishable shipping training that provides professionals with detailed insight into both the handling of perishable cargo and the practical knowledge of the most up-to-date regulations.

Air Cargo Carriers

Many air cargo operators are applying or reapplying for IATA’s CEIV Fresh certification.

In October 2022, Avianca Cargo announced that it had become the first airline in the Americas to obtain that certification. The airline was awarded the certificate at its facilities at Miami International Airport in Miami, Florida, United States. Miami and Bogota, Colombia, are the airline’s first certified stations, and Medellin, Colombia, and Quito, Ecuador, will also be CEIV Fresh certified by the end of 2022.

Commenting on the certification, Gabriel Oliva, CEO of Avianca Cargo, wrote in a Tweet: “Avianca Cargo achieved the certification through risk and quality management, highly trained personnel for handling perishable goods, active collaboration, transparent communication, and a standardized approach to the transportation of perishable goods.”

Of note, almost 70% of all goods shipped via air freight between Latin America and North America consist of perishable products. “Without the cooperation and collaboration of companies in the cold chain, and without harmonized global guidelines and standards followed by all, the risks of something going wrong are quite high,” says Peter Cerda, Regional Vice President for the Americas for IATA.

For Avianca, Latin America represents more than 50% of its transported cargo. This includes flowers from Colombia and Ecuador and other perishables such as fruit, fish, and meat products from Chile, Peru, Argentina, and all Latin America to the United States, Europe and the rest of the world.

Continuing Developments

Airports and airlines continue to address and upgrade their proper perishables handling and transporting procedures. For example, Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited (Hactl), a major terminal operator at Hong Kong International Airport with many years of experience in handling perishables, had put in place a number of resources and procedures long before becoming CEIV Fresh certified. “We found that the key to perishables handling is minimizing the dwell time between the arrival of aircraft and handing out to customers,” said Wilson Kwong, Chief Executive at Hactl. “We achieve this through dedicated and accredited procedures, priority handling, temperature-controlled storage and working areas and dedicated loading bays.”

Also at Hong Kong International Airport is COOLPORT operated by Asia Airfreight Terminal (AAT). AAT officially opened COOLPORT in July 2022. It is CEIV Fresh certified. This first on-airport cold chain facility provides a complete temperature-controlled environment at the airport, and complements a similar facility operated by AAT’s parent company, SATS Ltd., in Singapore. “At AAT, we regularly review our services to see how we can better meet market needs,” says Kuah Boon Kiam, CEO, AAT. “We believe COOLPORT will provide new value-added services and revenue opportunities for our customers, and further strengthen Hong Kong’s position as an efficient, secure and reliable hub for temperature sensitive products in the region.”

COOLPORT offers a dedicated temperature-controlled zone, covering the entire cargo handling process, including acceptance and delivery, build-up and breakdown, security screening and storage. New features include one-of-a-kind temperature-controlled truck docks with dock shelters that prevent potential disruptions to the cold chain during acceptance or delivery.

Also, the x-ray screening machine is located inside COOLPORT, which has CCTV surveillance. This allows cargo to be screened while at the correct ambient temperature. In addition, multi-tiered temperature zones down to -28°C are supported by real-time temperature and humidity monitoring systems.

And cargo storage is facilitated by an innovative palletized ULD system, which ensures speedy and easy movement of cargo. COOLPORT is designed to interface directly with the airside to facilitate seamless cargo flow. COOLPORT is expected to increase AAT’s handling capacity for such cargo by 50%, which will further uphold the status of Hong Kong International Airport as the world’s hub for perishables and pharmaceuticals.

In the United States, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is undergoing improvements centered around the building of a modern air cargo terminal that is expected to include systems for charging rechargeable refrigerated containers and various temperature-controlled brick-and-mortar facilities. The airport has already implemented an AI-supported cargo community system. Members of the system get priority cargo delivery.

Lufthansa Cargo ensures that perishable cargo, such as fruit and vegetables, flowers or fish, arrive at their destination as fresh as possible. This is the result of best practices that include fast transport, selection of the best transport routes to ensure a long shelf life, optimized transport chains utilizing expert support, the use of temperature-controlled storage and transport. This includes direct flights plus perishables-to-door service with refrigerated trucks. Perishables are stored in predominantly temperature-controlled environments, including the unique Perishable Center, at Lufthansa’s hub in Frankfurt.

The Perishable Center is Europe’s most advanced air cargo handling center for perishable goods. There, more than 120,000 tons of fresh produce is sorted, picked, packed and stored in an area more than 9,000 square meters. The Perishable Center operates 24/7, 365 days a year and offers 20 different climate zones adapted to the needs of product groups. The temperatures are continuously monitored and computer-controlled between -25°C and +25°C.

Korean Air has accumulated extensive experience providing temperature control for a wide variety of items including perishables such as salmon, lobster, king crab, South American-grown flowers, Korean strawberries, and U.S. cherries. It offers three levels of service under its Specialized–FRESH program.

“Korean Air’s mission is to provide optimal transport solutions to customers with speed and accuracy,” says Jae Dong Eum, Senior Vice President and Head of Cargo Business Division at Korean Air. To protect the value of the products, Korean Air maintains the proper temperature level in the aircraft. Priority handling over general cargo is also given throughout the entire shipping process.

“In the case of fresh goods, we believe the speedy delivery of goods while maintaining the required storage temperature from the country of origin to destination is most important,” Eum says. “Accordingly, Korean Air offers specialized services, expanding our fresh cargo storage facilities and continuously working with relevant parties to create synergy and improve efficiencies. However, considering that a cold chain is a supply chain that cannot work if any part of the chain breaks, it is most important to monitor and manage the entire cold chain supply chain from production to sales.”

Each service is optimal for perishables that need to be maintained at an appropriate temperature. Products such as ice cream, frozen meat and desserts are commonly shipped using FRESH 1. Here temperature-controlled containers keep perishable shipments fresh from origin to destination. The temperature control range is between -20° and 20°C, and the set temperature can last up to 72 hours.
Temperature within the container can only be set lower than its ambient temperature. Perishable shipments are ready for delivery within three hours after arrival.

FRESH 2 is optimal for perishables that require storage in refrigerator/freezer and can be used for products including aquatic products (lobster, salmon, etc.), fruits (strawberries, mangoes, blueberries, etc.), and flowers. FRESH 3 is used for perishables that require storage in a room temperature setting. Products such as various vegetables and seafood (king crab, shrimp, etc.) are commonly shipped using this service.

“We have strengthened our cooperation with global professional forwarders and container companies and continue to share information and jointly monitor the safe transport of cargo from the time of shipment,” Eum says. “We will continue to strengthen our cold chain services by establishing a strong, integrated system with related industries based on our extensive global network.”

Etihad Cargo recently launched a new cool chain facility at Abu Dhabi Airport that further expands its cool chain storage capacity and capabilities. The facility makes it possible for Etihad Cargo to handle an average of 50,000 tonnes, doubling its cool chain storage capacity at its hub. The new 3,000-square meter facility comprises the latest technology and features, including RFS loading docks with levelers, high-speed roll-up shutters, insulation and floor work for faster and more efficient loading with stricter temperature controls, increased storage space, and additional build-up and breakdown zones.

The facility also features new x-ray screening for police and customs inspections within a fully temperature-controlled environment and new dedicated thermal covers.

Etihad offers a FreshForward product, which is designed to simplify the process of moving fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, fish, meat and flowers. It was the first carrier in the Middle East – and second globally – to be awarded the IATA CEIV Fresh certificate, which it obtained in 2019. Among other services,

American Airlines Cargo (AACargo) offers a cooling service called AA Cool Perishables that is exclusive to Miami International Airport, one of the largest air gateways for perishables in the United States. AA Cool Perishables provides pre-cooling and confirmed cooler space for fresh shipments on-site. The program provides two pre-coolers, container handling systems and a simplified schedule of charges. On top of the temperature-controlled containers and refrigeration facilities, AA Cargo actively monitors flight times and temperatures throughout its network, making sure these sensitive shipments get delivered fresh off the plane.


February 15, 2023


Karen E. Thuermer


Food Loss & Waste, Transportation & Logistics