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April 15, 2020 4:15 PM, EDT

Feds Lean on Carriers in Fight Against the Coronavirus

Project Airbridge UPSProject Airbridge flight unloads in Louisville. (UPS Inc.)

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Trucking companies are diligently working with the federal government in an effort to defeat the coronavirus.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force includes motor carriers UPS Inc. and FedEx Corp., which have played a pivotal role in delivering medical supplies and setting up testing sites.

“UPS’ dedicated people, global network and public-private partnerships are creating a powerful combination for rapid deployment of protective equipment and test kits throughout the U.S.,” outgoing CEO David Abney said March 30. “UPS Healthcare has the expertise and experience to move vital, life-saving medicines, medical devices, diagnostic specimens and supplies everywhere they are needed.”

Abney will be succeeded by Carol Tomé in the CEO post on June 1, at which time Abney becomes executive chairman of the board. He will retire Sept. 30.

Trucking companies have had ongoing discussions with the administration and federal agencies throughout the crisis even as they distribute goods in the supply chain, including personal protective equipment (PPE). The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been at the forefront of those talks as part of its supply chain task force.

“FedEx has a long history of using our global network to support disaster relief,” the company said in a statement. “FedEx is working closely with the FEMA supply chain task force, Health and Human Services and Department of Defense to offer logistics support on a number of initiatives, including cargo flights of personal protective equipment and medical supplies, test kit distribution and collection, movement of necessary supplies including test swabs and other critical materials and support of diagnostic labs.”

Project Airbridge was born out of those discussions with the goal of rapid distribution. The initiative uses government and private resources to quickly airlift materials into the country so they can be distributed to where they are needed by motor carrier partners.

“FedEx has contracted with HHS to support FEMA as a part of Project Airbridge,” the statement said. “FEMA matches FedEx with critical supply companies, such as DuPont Personal Protection and Medline Industries Inc., to expedite the transportation of supplies critical to combating COVID-19 in the United States. FedEx has more than 40 charter flights scheduled in support of HHS and FEMA efforts.”

Medline Industries is one of the largest privately held manufacturers and distributors of medical supplies in the country. The company has partnered with federal agencies to use its distribution network to deliver medical supplies as part of Project Airbridge.

“We are a partner with FEMA and the federal government on that aspect of it, which is to expedite the shipment of PPEs and other critical medical products in high demand to front-line health care workers and move those products to federal government-identified areas of need,” Medline spokesman Jesse Greenberg told Transport Topics.

Greenberg said that one of the issues discussed is how to more quickly import medical supplies. Medline doesn’t have aircraft, and shipping vessels can take four weeks to arrive from Asia. Project Airbridge has helped in that effort, but he said the manufacturing side still needs to ramp up more.

“Early on in the COVID crisis, our CEO was invited to a meeting at the White House with the president along with other CEOs of the largest medical product distributors,” Greenberg said. “It was a good, wide-ranging discussion about what our company is seeing, what our customers are experiencing and how we could partner with the federal government.”

UPS announced March 16 that it is assisting the administration with logistics planning and operations for coronavirus testing sites. FEMA also started working with the company to distribute personal protective equipment and necessary materials to health care workers across the country beginning March 30.

“We are mobilizing our air and ground network planning and operations teams,” Abney said.

UPS ranks No. 1 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America. FedEx ranks No. 2 on the for-hire TT100 and No. 15 on the Transport Topics Top 50 list of the largest logistics companies in North America.

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