- The Toyosu Market in Tokyo is the largest fish market in the world, and is home to world-famous tuna auctions.
- Expert bidders flock to the market each morning for a chance to buy top-tier tuna, sometimes paying as much as $3 million.
- We followed a veteran tuna bidder, who explained the ins and outs of tuna auctions and his industry’s role in marine sustainability.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
- Ben & Jerry’s is the best-selling single ice cream brand in the world.
- It’s gained a cult following thanks to classic flavors like Half Baked and Cherry Garcia and a mission to use ice cream to fight for equality.
- We visited the plant in St. Albans, Vermont, to see how Ben & Jerry’s pumps out nearly 1 million pints a day.
- It takes hundreds of workers, special machinery, and a 24/7 operation to package up these pints.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Following is a transcription of the video.
Narrator: Scooped up across 38 countries and up to 75 flavors, Ben & Jerry’s is no pint-sized operation. Its two Vermont factories run 24/7, operated by hundreds of flavor makers. Together, they pump out nearly a million pints a day, from classic flavors like Cherry Garcia and Half Baked to flavors on a mission for criminal-justice reform and refugee rights. And all those flavors have to be delicious.
Sarah Fidler: Our minimum run size, once we get a flavor to the factory, is 80,000 pints. So not only do we have to love it, but 80,000 fans have to love it too.
Narrator: We visited the St. Albans plant in northern Vermont to see how these famous pints flip their way to our freezers. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield started Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream in 1978. From a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont, they launched a brand based on sustainable ice cream making and advocating for causes they believed in, and it worked. Today, Ben & Jerry’s is the best-selling single brand ice cream label in the US. To pump out its iconic flavors, first it starts with ingredients.
Ben & Jerry’s partners with 250 farms globally to source everything from vanilla bean to milk. Milk comes from the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery, just a mile and a half from the factory. Once the milk’s at the plant, it heads to one of these massive, 6,000-gallon silos.
But before it can be made into ice cream, everyone involved has to suit up, including us. Gowns, hairnets, caps, and boots.
To make the ice cream base, the milk heads to the blend tank. Cream, milk, and lots of sugar are churned together. The factory goes through 6,700 gallons of cream every single day. Every ice cream flavor starts with either a sweet cream base or a chocolate base.
Next, the Mix Master will pour in eggs, stabilizers, and cocoa powder if it’s a chocolate base. Then it’s piped into the pasteurizer. You can’t see it happening, but hot steel plates are heating up the mix to kill any harmful bacteria. The newly pasteurized milk is stored in a tank for four to eight hours, so the ingredients can really get to know each other.
After making the two bases, they’ll head to one of the 20 flavor vats to get a flavor boost.
Fidler: We’re always coming up with new flavors, hundreds of flavors a year, and we usually narrow it down to about three or four. We really love to bring our social mission values into our naming process. For example, Empower Mint to talk about voting rights.
Narrator: Before Ben & Jerry’s famous chunks can be added, the mix has to get to below-freezing temperatures. It’s pumped through this giant freezing barrel, and when it gets to the front, it’s finally ice cream. Along the way, it’s quality tested, meaning lucky factory floor workers get to taste the ice creams.
Then it goes into the first of two freezer visits. When it comes out, it’s 22 degrees and somewhere between the consistency of a milkshake and soft serve.
Now for the best part, the chunks. Founder Ben actually didn’t have a great sense of smell, which meant he couldn’t taste much either. So his big thing was texture. That’s why Ben & Jerry’s has some of the biggest chunks in the ice cream industry. These chunks end up in flavors like Half Baked, Chubby Hubby, or the one we’re making, Chocolate Therapy.
Workers dump in add-ins through the Chunk Feeder, from brownie bites and cookie dough globs to chocolate chunks, fruits, and nuts. They let us give it a try, but it’s not as easy as it looks. Then it’s finally time to pack those pints. Workers stack the empty containers into the automatic filler. The machine drops the pints into position and perfectly pumps in ice cream. It can fill up 270 pints a minute. The pints are pushed towards the lidder and sealed tight.
At this point, six pints every hour are pulled off the line for quality testing. Quality assurance personnel first cut pints open. They’re making sure the ingredients are symmetrical and there aren’t any big air bubbles.
Worker: There is a small gap, but that’s what we call a functional void. If we saw large voids, it would be concerning. It’s actually quite the workout, as you can tell.
Narrator: They also measure the weight and volume of pints to ensure that the right amount of ice cream makes it into each container.
Worker: So, we know the weight of the ice cream, and anything below 460 is not passable.
Narrator: Now back to the factory line. It’s now time for the pints to take a second spin in the freezer. The ice cream has to get even colder, down to minus 10 degrees. The pints travel along the Spiral Hardener, a corkscrew-shaped conveyor belt inside a freezer. With the wind chill, it can get up to minus 60 degrees in there.
After three hours, the pints are finally frozen and ready to be packaged. They’re flipped over and shrink wrapped into groups of eight. Together, they make a gallon. But you’ll never actually see a gallon tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, because the company never wants its ice cream going bad sitting in the back of your fridge. Once the pints are packaged, they’re ready to be shipped across the globe.
Abby Narishkin: Hey, guys, my name’s Abby, and I’m one of the producers on this video. My favorite flavor is definitely Ben & Jerry’s Milk & Cookies, but let me know your favorites in the comments below and if you have any ideas for the next episode of “Big Business.” Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button so you don’t miss out.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in August 2020.
- The 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) stores thousands of retired military aircraft.
- This collection would be the world’s second largest air force if it were in service.
- But the planes don’t just come here to die. Mechanics reclaim parts and regenerate entire aircraft to go back into service.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Following is a description of the video:
Narrator: The 309th AMARG stores the world’s largest collection of military aircraft here in the Arizona desert.
Col. Jennifer Barnard: I like to call this the ugliest plane out here, the YC-14. It was an aircraft that never went into production.
Narrator: Eight hundred mechanics work nonstop, reclaiming critical old parts and regenerating aircraft so they can go back into service.
Barnard: I can’t just pull over an airplane like you can a car. And we have to make sure that these aircraft are safe to fly. Our goal is not to be like a cemetery for the aircraft.
Narrator: That’s Col. Barnard. She’s served 25 years as a US Air Force Aircraft Maintenance Officer.
Barnard: As a commander here, I am in charge of the whole operation. The assets stored here are worth somewhere between $34 billion and $35 billion, if you were to try to replace them all. It’s a big number.
Narrator: She took us inside this massive facility to see how these military planes get a second chance at life. AMARG got its start back in 1946. After World War II, the Army needed a place to store old planes. They chose Davis-Monthan Air Force Base here in Tucson. With nearly 2,000 football fields worth of open desert, there was plenty of space.
Barnard: We’re known worldwide as the boneyard. Our guys take pride in being boneyard wranglers.
Narrator: Arizona has the perfect weather for storing these assets. It’s hot, there’s little rainfall, no humidity, and the soil?
Barnard: It’s as hard as concrete.
Narrator: So planes won’t sink.
Barnard: The dryness, as well as the lack of acidity in the soil, prevent corrosion on the assets.
Narrator: Aircraft come here from the Department of defense, military, other government agencies, and froeign allies.
Barnard: We have about 3,100 airplanes. The planes are mostly military. They come from the Air Force, the Navy, the Army, and the Marines. We have over 80 different types of airplanes here.
Narrator: Planes and helicopters arrive and are lined up in sections.
Barnard: So we’re driving down display row here, or celebrity row as some people call it. We do have a sense of humor here. That’s our stealth aircraft, which is actually just Wonder Woman’s jet. The LC-130s have skis along with their landing gear so they can land down in Antarctica and support the National Science Foundation all across that continent. We’re coming up on a NASA aircraft. It’s affectionately called the vomit comet.
Narrator: Some aircraft will be here for weeks before they’re called back into service. Other aircraft can be here for 50 years, similar to this A-4 Skyhawk. Each plane goes through a preservation process before it’s put in the desert. Those that may fly again are re-preserved every four years. They’re defueled, then oil is pumped through the engine to preserve it.
Barnard: The black material that we have on here is the base layer that seals up the aircraft. And then later, as you can see, the rest of the aircraft around here, the coats on top are white. And those white coats will reflect the heat so it better preserves the assets all on the inside of the aircraft.
Narrator: Like the inside of this C5-A Galaxy.
Barnard: The inside of the C5 is the largest cargo aircraft in the Air Force inventory. I have deployed on these.
Narrator: One of six deployments Col. Barnard’s had to Afghanistan, New Zealand, and Antarctica.
Barnard: And we can fit three HH-60 helicopters, and a lot of our equipment that we need, as well as all our maintainers. We have just over 60 of them here. And every one of them needs 72 tie-downs. Airplanes are designed to fly, and when it gets a little breezy out here we want to make sure they stay parked.
Narrator: But not every plane just sits around collecting dust. US military units around the world can request specific parts off these planes.
Barnard: An aircraft has so many thousands of parts. Just like a reservoir keeps things in case you need them. And then we release what’s out of the reservoir as needed.
Narrator: And some of the parts the military can only find here at AMARG.
Barnard: We are that assurance that there’s a part available when the supply system main sources don’t get it. We send anywhere from 4,000 to 7,000 parts out every year to the tune of a few million dollars each week worth of supply parts.
Scott and James here are removing the engines from the back of this T-38 as a reclamation effort because these have been requested to go back into service. So once the crews reclaim the parts out in the desert and bring them into the end of this building, they get washed, they get non-destructive inspection, and they’re going to pack and ship these right out the door as fast as we can.
Narrator: But sometimes, instead of being used for parts, an entire plane will be regenerated, meaning they’ll pull it out of the desert and wash it down.
Mike Serrano: We have to remove all the coatings that are used to preserve the aircraft out in the desert.
Narrator: After getting a nice shower, it’s fixed up.
Barnard: What our team is working on here is a C-130 that’s being regenerated for foreign military sales. In this hangar, the current project that we’re working on is F-16s in post-block repair. It’s a package of structural improvements on the aircraft to extend their flyable life.
Narrator: The unit also handles aircraft modifications.
Barnard: These aircraft come from US units that are active right now. And then they get some work done on them, and they go back out to that same unit. So we’re able to upgrade those and modify them to keep them up with the current standards in the active fleet.
Narrator: Complicated individual pieces are sent to separate back shops for repair and overhaul.
Barnard: Here in the wing shop … We have all the center portions of the A-10 wings being rebuilt here. And the outer portions being rebuilt there. There’s actually hundreds of pieces inside of an aircraft wing. The complexity and the level of structure, it’s really eye-opening for many folks. Each set of wings can take up to 20,000 man hours to overhaul.
Narrator: Once parts are fixed, they go through a thorough inspection. We’re here in the non-destructive inspection area. Pete’s working on a fluorescent dye penetrant.
Pete Boveington: It’s basically a liquid that absorbs into cracks, and we can apply a black light to it. And you can see there’s a crack right here that shows up. This crack right here on this part in the landing gear could cause catastrophic failure on the landing gear.
Narrator: Not a single crack on an entire plane can get past this team.
Barnard: We have to make sure that these aircraft are safe to fly so that we protect that asset, and we protect the air crew that’s inside of that asset. So the stakes are pretty high.
Narrator: Once fixed, the planes go through a rigorous final flight test. Pilot Scott Thompson is testing these regenerated F-16s.
Lt. Col. Scott Thompson: I will take them out to the airspace just south of here. Close enough to where if I do have a problem I can get back onto the ground immediately and pretty much put them through the wringer. We test flight controls, and the handling, and the engine performance, and all the systems on the plane pretty extensively, at all altitudes.
Barnard: They go out to become full-scale aerial targets.
Narrator: That’s a happy ending for a plane pulled from the desert here at AMARG. But for other aircraft, this is the end of the line. The planes marked with a big D are destroyed by a third-party contractor.
Barnard: So these are our guys that work the demil, and they prepare aircraft for disposal. Well, and I will get out of the way of the crowbar.
Worker: I’m pretty good with this crowbar.
Barnard: I’m pretty good at destruction too, but you guys are being super careful about it, which you should be.
Narrator: The planes are demolished for good reason.
Barnard: We’ll make sure everything’s accounted for and that the materials and the technology don’t fall into the wrong hands.
Narrator: While some Americans may not have heard of AMARG, it actually saves taxpayers a lot of money.
Barnard: The assets stored here are worth somewhere between $34 billion and $35 billion. And so to make a new one may not be possible, versus to rejuvenate an old one might be the best-case scenario.
Narrator: But for the workers, it’s not just about saving the military some money. It’s also about giving these planes another life.
Thompson: A lot of these airplanes haven’t flown for a very long time. I flew a lot of them operationally back in the day. It’s great to get back in them and bring them back to life.
Barnard: These airplanes have a lot of stories to tell, and it’s wonderful to spend time with them and think about that. There are very few of us military that are lucky enough to be assigned here. It’s just a joy to be able to work with these people every day and be around these airplanes.
- Designing the inside of an airplane isn’t easy.
- It took 20 different teams at Delta and three and a half years to finish the redesign of the 777 fleet.
- Before they could debut new cabins, a bin-lift assist, and wireless seat-back TVs, Delta’s team faced weight limits, limited space, and safety regulations.
- Business Insider got a behind-the-scenes look on board a 777 with the product manager and engineer who helped take the new design airborne.
- This footage was filmed on February 27, 2020.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Following is a transcription of the video.
Ashley Garris: What makes our job very challenging is it’s a game of inches. It’s fighting for every little bit of space.
Narrator: Airplane interiors are a battleground among airlines. Who can make 15 hours straight in the air most comfortable, even if you’re stuck in economy? But comfort isn’t the easiest to come by flying in a metal tube 40,000 feet in the sky.
Alice Belcher: There are challenges because you’re in a very small space with a lot of people.
Narrator: We went on board Delta’s redesigned Boeing 777 with the people whose job it is to make flying suck a little less.
Delta announced the redesign of its entire 777 fleet back in 2018. And the airline finished updating the 18 planes in Singapore in early 2020. All four cabins underwent upgrades.
Belcher: When that 777 comes in, it has a very old interior, so they rip it all out and they install everything new. There is thousands of hours of engineering that has to be done to install all that equipment and develop the interface diagrams, develop the certification documentation.
Narrator: While Delta has announced it will retire the Boeing 777 fleet, its facelift can still give us a look into how designers maximize limited space on a plane.
This is Ashley. Ashley identifies what frustrates customers on board and comes up with possible solutions.
Garris: So, in product development, we have thought about every single inch of this aircraft, from the business-class cabin to the size of the closets to the size of the lavatories.
Narrator: Then engineers like Alice figure out how to bring those ideas to life from this fancy lab in Atlanta.
Belcher: What we’re trying to do is figure out, can we take that technologies, and is it ready to be on an airplane with 281 passengers at 30,000 feet flying 400 miles an hour? And then if it is, what we do is we wanna execute it as flawlessly as we possibly can.
Narrator: So, what changes did designers make? We’ll start with business class.
Garris: This whole seat has memory-foam cushioning in it. It’s designed to be like a mattress, basically. For us, it’s all about picking very careful, sustainable, nonflammable materials, but also making sure they’re comfortable as well. We also have all of our controls for the seat here.
What we really work on is also building spatial mock-ups to really determine that every passenger of all sizes is comfortable in this space here. And if not, then we’ll work to adjust. Can we adjust the console size to make it smaller or bigger and give more room here? Every suite also has a fully enclosed door. And if you’re in the center seats, then you also have a privacy divider between the two seats.
Every seat has a leg rest, footrest, got a remote control, got my nice 13.3-inch high-definition IFE screen.
Narrator: That in-flight-entertainment system is wireless, the first of its kind in the industry. It was developed in that fancy lab.
Belcher: This is our IFE lab. What we’ve done with wireless seat-back IFE, we eliminate the ethernet cable, and by eliminating all those cables that are running all over the airplane, we save about a pound per seat. That’s about 281 pounds per aircraft. Basically equates to 1,330 metric tons of carbon-emission savings per year.
Narrator: Alice partnered with the Georgia Tech Research Institute to create a software system in the IFE that could easily be updated with new technology.
Belcher: We can’t set a whole airplane fleet down every two years and redo it all, so we have to think very innovatively. It also has to last a long time. These displays on an A220, that thing flies eight to 12 hours a day, maybe more. It could possibly be on almost that whole time. We worry a lot about reliability as well.
Narrator: Back in Premium Select, beyond the TV, there’s also plugs and USB ports, and a couple other tricks to designing within this small space.
Garris: So, every seat also has a very large tray table. These seats are so far apart that to put a tray table here, I mean, you would really be reaching. So we put the tray table in the arm. The back of the seat’s also grooved out to still give you those extra inches there in your knee space.
This is Delta’s Comfort Plus cabin. We do want to create that open, airy cabin. Part of that also is just the way that the bins are designed, right? So, they’re still high enough up that you have lots of space and headroom. But they’re big enough to be functional, to hold all of our passengers’ bags they’re bringing on board.
All of our passengers usually really care about storage. Probably fits maybe six roller boards. But if I put six roller boards in here, I’m not gonna be able to close it.
Belcher: Delta came to us and said, “Hey, we have this problem. We spend a lot of money on back injuries to flight attendants. Can you guys think of some way to fix it?” And so we were given the challenge to say is there a easier, better way to be able to push up these bins? We partnered with a supplier in Germany to come up with this electromechanical device.
Garris: The bin lift assist will actually click on when this weight reaches 45 pounds, and it will make the close force like I’m closing a bin with only 35 pounds inside.
Narrator: Engineers also had to make the bins durable.
Garris: These bins are probably used, you know, 500 times a year by all our passengers, so that means, just, they take a beating. We have to really be careful about the materials that we put on board to make sure that they’re reliable and robust and not breaking.
This is really where we spend the most time. I think the hardest part of an economy seat is the inches. So, the industry standard on a 777 aircraft is actually to put 10 seats wide. Instead of squeezing in a tenth seat in each row, we maintain nine. Everyone hates getting that middle seat on a long-haul flight, so instead of having two middle seats here in the center, we only have one.
It’s also about giving passengers things to do at their seats while they’re on such a long flight. In the event that the passenger in front of me wants to sleep and they recline their seat, then my screen here tilts so that I can get a better viewing angle regardless of what the passenger in front of me is doing.
Narrator: But the design details extend beyond just the seats and into the whole plane. They added more space in front of the lavatories for people to line up.
Garris: Making sure the aisles are wide enough so that customers can easily get their bags up and down. Flight attendants can also easily push the carts up and down.
Narrator: They also tweaked the lighting system.
Garris: Our full-spectrum LED lighting has seven different lighting scenarios. So, for your meal setting, you’re gonna have a nice, warm orange-red color that is supposed to stimulate hunger. We also have a sunset setting, which is a couple minutes of transition, which actually replicates a sunset on board, and then it takes you to night mode.
As a designer, I’ve sat in these seats, I’ve flown all over the world. I wanna know what the experience is like, and I want to know the customer pain points, mainly because I’ve experienced them, but it’s also my job to try to ease those pain points.
Narrator: But making any changes to a fleet, big or small, takes years.
Garris: We haven’t even talked about certification yet. Every single seat that you sit in has been thoroughly tested to withstand an accident, if that were to ever happen. Every single piece on here is built with all of those certifications and testing before it ever goes on board.
Narrator: Ashley said the 777 redesign took 3 1/2 years.
Garris: And I would say at least 20 different teams at Delta all working together.
Belcher: We came and we tested it. We had some flight attendants come in and try it out. We did the certification and the installation and all the engineering so we could put it on the airplane, make sure it was safe, and flew it away.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in July 2020.
- Most Valentine’s Day flowers in US grocery stores come from farms in Colombia.
- Roses, daisies, and other flowers have as little as 48 hours to be cut and flown to Miami.
- In Miami, workers with Customs and Border Protection inspects the flowers for harmful bugs and diseases.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
- Lufthansa Cargo recently upgraded its Chicago O’Hare facility to be able to handle a large amount of pharmaceutical shipments.
- The various Covid-19 vaccines all have special cold storage requirements, which Lufthansa Cargo is equipped to handle.
- The cargo industry has already been overwhelmed this year by how many people shopping from home, leading to shipping surges and late packages.
- There will likely be a fight for space between vaccines, Amazon packages, furniture, cars, and other cargo.
- We went inside to see how the team is getting ready to ship up to 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses a day.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Following is a transcipt of the video.
Narrator: Cargo planes like this MD-11 will soon be transporting the most anticipated vaccine of the 21st century. Prior to the coronavirus, Lufthansa Cargo invested $5 million to upgrade its facility at Chicago O’Hare International Airport to handle a lot more pharmaceutical cargo — 200 tons a day, to be exact. So when pharma companies began to develop the coronavirus vaccine, Lufthansa was in a fortuitous position. Vaccine manufacturers reached out to the company, which has just 19 planes in its cargo fleet, to help distribute millions of vaccines in record time.
It’s a product everyone on Earth needs as quickly as possible, but distributing the various vaccines to the entire world is going to be a massive undertaking. It will require solving huge logistical challenges. The different vaccines need to be kept at various cold temperatures, transported to isolated and hard-to-reach areas, and fit on different-sized planes.
David Zimmer: Nobody knows exactly what’s going to happen with the vaccine. There was an estimation that we probably need approximately 8,000 freighter flights to globally distribute this vaccine. We don’t have that many aircraft.
Narrator: Prior to the pandemic, 50% of all cargo shipments were transported on passenger aircraft in the same luggage hold as our suitcases. But that all changed in March.
Zimmer: Boom. Now you have no passenger aircraft. So now everything’s going on the freighters.
Narrator: That’s David. He and his team took us behind the scenes at Lufthansa’s cargo facility to see how it’s preparing to move vaccines through this nearly 110,000-square-foot terminal that runs around the clock. It’s all done by a crew of over 200 highly qualified personnel, who can load two freighter planes full of 112 tons of cargo every day.
Zimmer: Through the facility, we can probably transport anywhere from 2 to 10 million vaccines every day. We do expect that once the vaccine is ready, that a lot of it will come through this facility.
Narrator: Not many cargo facilities have the massive cooling infrastructure required to handle large shipments of COVID vaccines.
Benno Forster: If you have a vaccine or something which got too high of a temperature or too cold of a temperature, it might not be good for the patient anymore.
Narrator: Benno works for DB Schenker, a logistics company that specializes in transporting pharmaceuticals with strict temperature controls, and is partnering with Lufthansa to ship the vaccines.
Forster: In the pharma industry, as you can see all over the place, it says 2 to 8 degrees. That’s the typical way you ship pharma. So the biggest challenge is to keep that product at this defined temperature from the moment we pick it up to the moment we deliver it.
Narrator: But Lufthansa Cargo is equipped to take on the challenge.
Zimmer: Before COVID happened, we made a huge investment here, and it’s really, it’s old-school stuff. Giant freezers and fridges that are connected and monitored. We have all these airlines asking us, “Can we use your warehouse?” Because we happen to have the infrastructure ready for COVID.
Narrator: Lufthansa’s $5 million investment resulted in two new rooms. The first one, called PPH, is for items to be stored at 15 to 25 degrees Celsius.
Amra Bukva: We are here in the PPH room, pharma room, which stands for perishable passive high temperature, 15 to 25. This is the place where we store the shipments coming in from all over the world, until delivered.
Narrator: The PPH room can store all sorts of things, like flowers, stem cells, and live fish. Its 15-to-25 temperature range is designed so nothing gets too hot or too cold. But that’s not the only specialized room Lufthansa has.
Bukva: Welcome to our freezer room, which is setting minus 18 Celsius degrees. It’s suitable for the frozen goods, so usually we have smaller packages, like this one.
Narrator: Small to medium boxes, like those, can be packed with your regular old ice packs or dry ice to keep the products inside fresh or cool. But with dry ice, there are restrictions on how much of it you can load onto a plane.
Forster: You’re very limited on a passenger plane, because the dry ice will take the oxygen out of the air. So if we have too much dry ice here and we are standing all around here after a certain time, we will not be able to breathe.
Narrator: For pharmaceuticals that require even cooler temperatures, pharma and cargo companies use nitroglycerin, which could be especially vital for Pfizer’s vaccine, since it will need to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, or minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bukva: Nobody can set minus 94. So those are canisters filled up with nitroglycerin, and the vaccine is put inside.
Narrator: The vaccines you’ve heard about all have different temperature needs. While Pfizer’s needs to be stored at those subarctic temperatures, Moderna’s vaccine needs to be frozen at negative 20 degrees Celsius if it spends more than 30 days in refrigerated storage. AstraZeneca’s can be stored at the same temperature as a home fridge for up to six months.
Forster: The big challenge will be the minus 70, minus 80 Celsius. Airlines and freight forwarders have to invest in mobile coolers, because you will not build a cooler like this for minus 70 degrees. Because if you think about it, you need PPE material to go into it. I couldn’t go like this into minus 70 degrees.
Narrator: The good thing is Pfizer has already created its own container that uses dry ice to keep its vaccine cool for at least 10 days. Other vaccines that don’t require such low temperatures, like Moderna’s, can use already-existing solutions, like these Envirotainers.
Stephen Lindsay: The battery charge on here is 100%. The set temperature on this is minus 20.
Narrator: These Envirotainers, specially designed for transporting pharmaceuticals, can keep everything inside at temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees Celsius. They even have their own power supply, enabling them to operate without being plugged in for 10 to 15 hours, which allows them to withstand long flights.
Lindsay: There’s cords here that plug right into the outlet center in the containers there. When we have these containers here, they still need to be maintained as far as their temperature is concerned, because they run on a charge. They won’t stay long in the facility, but they have a home to sit into until it’s time for them to go.
Narrator: But in the event of flight cancellations, delays, or shipments to remote locations, battery-operated containers can pose a risk.
Bukva: You cannot have nothing except airplane engines running inside. They don’t want your phone on. So can you imagine how it would be if you have 10, 15 containers plugged in? That’s impossible.
Narrator: The Lufthansa facility does have one more way of keeping things cold.
Ricardo Lopez: This is where all the ULDs, or the pallets that come off the aircraft, they get stored in here.
Zimmer: This is my favorite part of the warehouse. I call it Bumblebee. As you can see, it is a little bit like a vending machine. Basically a giant storage system.
Narrator: Using this 30-year-old giant-vending-machine-like device, Lufthansa is able to store pallets in three levels of stacked rooms with garage-door-like openings. 18 of the rooms are temperature controlled, and each can store two full pallets of pharmaceuticals.
Zimmer: The only thing that’s been in this warehouse longer than this machine is this machine right here. [laughter]
Lindsay: Still running, running strong, no problem.
Narrator: When it’s time to retrieve a shipment, an operator will have Bumblebee go right to the appropriate door, retrieve the pallet, and load it onto a transporter that will take it directly to the plane. Some of the pharma cargo may find its way onto pallets like this. Specially trained operations managers put these together based on weight and volume distribution, all while trying to maximize the space available on the plane.
Lindsay: The more we maximize, the more extra we can take on the flight there.
Zimmer: It’s really just, it’s a game. So good builders are Tetris players. They have very good spatial vision.
Narrator: If a pallet like this is going on the MD-11, the plane we saw on our visit, it can’t just be cube-shaped.
Zimmer: The contour is built to the shape of the aircraft. So this is a main-deck position. We want to maximize space, so that’s why you see that curvature here.
Lopez: Cargo that’s loaded in there cannot go outside those boundaries, because otherwise it’ll damage the aircraft. And there’s a distance of two inches that it’s got to be away from that wall in order to keep it in a safely controlled distance.
Narrator: Yep, every pallet has to be built around where it will be on the plane and what shape the interior takes at that position. While the front offers more height, the tail does not.
Lopez: All right, let’s take you up to the MD-11. We’re going up to the cockpit right now.
Husmira: Please watch your steps. Walk carefully, as this space is tight between the pallets.
Lopez: So, as you can see up here on the aircraft, it’s pretty much a skeleton. And it’s very thin walls that you have out here. It’s just like a cardboard. And that’s all that’s protecting the aircraft. So you don’t want weight, because as soon as you put more weight on an aircraft, you lose cargo.
Pharma is going to be transported on our ULDs. These locks are what holds the pallet from moving back and forward and also upward positions. The only difference between cargo and pharma is you have your temperature restrictions. You would just notify the crew and tell them to put the whole main deck at that temperature, or the lowered holds, which will be the forward hold in front of the aircraft downstairs, he can set that temperature as well.
Narrator: Ops agents like Ricky have to get everything right within the confines of the plane, weight limitations, and weather conditions.
Lopez: These white plastic — as you can see, it’s different from this other one. This is just clear plastic. This is regular cargo, and these are temperature-controlled ULDs. And we put this white plastic here as a protective covering. So it can reflect the sun or anything. That’ll keep it to the temperature that it’s needed while it waits outside.
Zimmer: When it’s heavy rain, snow, sleet, all that stuff accumulates on the cargo. When you move that into the aircraft, that drips into the avionics compartment. It can happen on an aircraft that the avionics compartment just goes blank. The entire aircraft is dark. That is a huge risk. So when that happens, our ops team, they have to basically make sure there’s no water anywhere. That aircraft sits there until the next day, until everything’s dry, until everything’s inspected and it can fly.
Narrator: And all this has to happen within a very limited time frame.
Lopez: We have a ground time of two hours and a half to offload the aircraft and load it. That’s as much time that they give us. That’s for a full turnaround.
Narrator: If cargo is not loaded perfectly, then shipments could be delayed, someone could get hurt, or pharmaceuticals on the aircraft could be deemed unusable.
Zimmer: If the aircraft is delayed until 7 in the morning, you got to stay until 7 in the morning.
Lopez: We, as operations, we’re the final check that we have to prevent anything from happening.
Narrator: While Lufthansa has nine 777s that can carry 103,000 kilograms, its other cargo aircraft, the MD-11 seen here, can carry only 90% of that, or about 93,000 kilograms. And it was never meant to carry cargo in the first place.
Zimmer: The MD-11 was originally built as a passenger aircraft. We converted ours to freighters. We have three MD-11s left in our fleet. We were supposed to no longer have them. They’re old aircraft. They’re very nice, very beautiful, but very old aircraft. They’re also very difficult to manage from an operational point of view.
Lopez: They should have been phased out already by the end of the year, but they’re keeping them a little longer because of the demand that we have. The main difference from this, the 777 and this, this aircraft has three engines, and it’s got one in the back, and that’s one of our critical points. This aircraft is so tail-heavy that we have to have extra precaution on not tipping it, because if you have too much weight in the back this aircraft will go up, and those wheels will come down.
Zimmer: The MD-11 is like playing Tetris. If the four of us standing here on an empty aircraft walk to the back of the aircraft, that airplane tilts, and you can no longer fly that aircraft. That’s an AOG, aircraft on ground.
Narrator: While the crew has to worry about the MD-11 popping a wheelie, the process is much easier with Lufthansa’s 777s.
Lopez: A 777 only has two engines, and they’re located in the middle. So it’s very hard for it to tip. So safety related, the 777’s a lot better, fuel efficient than the MD-11.
Zimmer: A 777 aircraft, which is the largest aircraft we have that is a freighter aircraft, commercial freighter aircraft, holds approximately 100 tons. So in this facility we could run two full freighter aircraft every day, coming in with pharmaceuticals and delivering them.
Narrator: And while the Lufthansa facility is ready to handle 224 tons on two 777s a day, that still might not be enough planes.
Zimmer: There was an estimation that we’d probably need approximately 8,000 freighter flights.
Narrator: That’s 8,000 freighters carrying only the vaccine. But remember, these flights also normally get loaded with shipments like furniture, pets, cars, and all sorts of other cargo. And this is all happening as we enter a holiday season in a year that has already put massive strain on the air-cargo industry.
Zimmer: It is going to be a huge congestion. My understanding is there’s going to be a huge competition for space. So if Amazon pays more than the United States government for the space on the aircraft, then, you know, they’re selling it to Amazon.
Narrator: But passengers are flying less because of COVID-19. So why not just load up all those passenger planes with vaccines?
Zimmer: You can’t really convert an aircraft like that. I can’t go, boom, now it’s a freighter aircraft. The biggest problem with that is the door. So, you can’t, you look around here. You can’t fit that through a passenger door.
Narrator: The increase in cargo shipments has presented its own challenges for Lufthansa.
Zimmer: Suddenly everybody needs qualified people who can work on freighters. Everybody here at the airport is trying to poach our people. Our biggest challenge in the middle of this pandemic is suddenly all the other competitors want our people, and we have limited resources to train new staff. So you really, your Steves that has been here for 42 years and your Husmiras and all these people that are qualified and know what they’re doing, they’re all being approached by everybody else, ’cause everybody needs them for COVID and for freight.
Narrator: At the same time, Lufthansa Cargo had to implement social distancing, mandatory masks, and temperature checks in its facility.
Zimmer: We’re an essential business, obviously. I always say, you know, try moving freight on a Zoom call. It doesn’t really work, right? So we have to make sure that our people stay healthy.
Narrator: Distance, travel times, and the urgency of the vaccine will add even more complexity to this already-complicated process.
Zimmer: You need a lot of space, but only for a few days, and then you don’t need it anymore.
Forster: Especially when you go to Africa. When you go to remote areas, it might take more than 10 hours to be there.
Narrator: And while that’s a large-scale problem to solve, there are some micro issues that need to be addressed closer to home.
Zimmer: We’re getting electrical forklifts to handle the pharmaceuticals. If you’re in the room with the pharmaceuticals, you don’t want to be using a propane forklift for too long, because it can be a contaminant.
Lindsay: These are all the adjustments that we have to make in order to make everything work. And a lot of things we’re learning as we’re going.
Bukva: We will definitely do everything possible to accommodate, because this is huge.
Forster: If you do pharma or vaccine, you know that there is a patient behind. So that automatically gives you a sense of, you know, even more responsibility to make sure that, not to say that the other freight is not important, but, you know, this is something which we obviously have to be monitoring any minute, because if it goes bad, it can cost the life of a human being.
Bukva: It gives you a big sense of responsibility. We putting Band-Aid on the world.