Good Distribution Practice for Airlines – Challenges and solutions for medicinal product temperature control and segregation

  1. How can airlines keep the required temperature range in the cargo hold during flight?

An increasing number of temperature-controlled pharmaceuticals, of different temperature ranges, are being flown all over the globe.

For airlines, it is quite a challenge to keep the temperature between the narrow temperature range 2 to 8°C for coldchain medicines.

During the loading and unloading process, the aircraft cargo hold doors are open allowing potentially extremely high temperature air to enter the product storage area of the cargo hold. The cooling unit, in most cases, is not active whilst the aircraft in on the ground. Once the plane takes off, it actually takes a few hours before the required temperature range is reached and stabilized. So, with ground temperatures sometimes reaching over 30°C, and outside temperature during flight at minus 40°C, keeping the temperature is quite a challenge. In newer planes the temperature control and monitoring is far more advanced with better and more rapid control of the desired temperature whereas older planes just have a “hot and cold” turning button.

  1. How to define the best position in the cargo hold for temperature-controlled shipments?

A temperature mapping study of the cargo hold is indicating the cold and hot spots.  This information can be used for the positioning of the cargo, which cannot always be achieved as the loading plan must always be aligned with the weight and balance of the plane. 

  1. How to maintain segregation between pharmaceuticals and perishables?

If goods are loaded on a ULD, it cannot always be guaranteed that pharmaceuticals are not placed next to vegetables, fruit, flowers or general cargo.  Here the segregation is jeopardized, there is no clear guideline on the distance in between the goods.  In worst case the segregation is only by the outer packaging of your pharmaceuticals.

As we can see here, there are challenges for the healthcare industry in ensuring their medicinal products are at the right temperature and free from cross contamination when few thousand miles up in the sky.

Improvements in aviation are being made on temperature control and segregation for medicinal products as standards tighten however, it is still with the pharmaceutical companies to ensure their medicines are securely packaged within thermal packaging to protect their medicines during transportation.  If you want to know more about how to cover this within your Quality Management System, please contact us at

Written by: Geert Leroy, Senior consultant for pharmaceutical cool supply chain