Pfizer flight department fast-tracked vaccine rollout


Pfizer’s corporate flight department accelerated the rollout of the pharmaceutical giant’s vaccine two weeks ahead of schedule, according to its vice president of Corporate Aviation, John Witzig. Speaking at last week’s NBAA Business Aviation Safety seminar, Witzig said that despite the drop- in flights suffered as a result of the pandemic, the flight department played a crucial role in getting the vaccine out.

“As slow as our flying was for last year, the reality is that the value the flight department generated for the business probably exceeded the value of every trip we’ve ever done,” he said.

When the pandemic first set in, Witzig said the reaction was that they were going to be down just a short while. But as time went on, the concern became about maintaining the flight department. Once health and safety protocols were in place, Pfizer realised that its currency flights were “just burning holes” in the sky without really demonstrating any financial benefit to the company.

The firm had always supported the charitable organisation, Corporate Angel Network (CAN), which arranges transportation for cancer patients. So Witzig said he asked his CEO whether such flights could also be used for those missions. Company executives gave their approval and over the next couple of months Pfizer flew a couple of dozen trips, he said.

The flight department also realised the opportunity to show executives “you’ve got a secret weapon” with an in-house aviation department. This enabled the firm to to navigate travel restrictions with more ease.

The flight department then developed a hazmat team and worked with health and safety experts and its own logistics teams to explore how it could begin carrying equipment and vaccines.

“It was a lot more complicated than we thought,” Witzig said. But the department was able to work through issues to conduct “dozens and dozens” of trips carrying small loads of trial product and lab technicians while testing was ongoing. The flight department played a small but significant role in the effort to make the Pfizer vaccine available, Witzig said. “We were credited specifically with reducing our time to submission for the emergency-use authorisation by at least two weeks. There’s no doubt how valuable that was to our business.”