Cargo pilots preparing to deliver coronavirus vaccine

Cargo pilots have been working around the clock since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now they're gearing up for an even greater task – the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine.  

But in recent weeks, the spike in COVID cases across the country is having an impact on pilots. 

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Unlike front line workers at the grocery store, or at the hospitals with our doctors and nurses, cargo pilots are the front end of the supply chain that we don't see. 

From March to late October, they had just about 100 positive cases of coronavirus within their pilot group. Now that number has more than doubled to 209 in just the last month. 

Brian Gaudet, director of public affairs with the Independent Pilots Association says, “Normally when we talk about peak times at UPS, we talk about Christmas time from mid-November to January. The CEO of UPS was recently quoted that we’ve been working under peak conditions for months, so our pilots have been flying around the clock making sure Americans have the goods they need to live, which we think has contributed to the spike.” 

Gaudet adds that back in March, passenger pilots were told to not fly from the U.S. to Asia, but as cargo pilots have been “flying into and out of the teeth of the coronavirus and there’s no letting up.” 

Gaudet says their 3,000 UPS pilots are worn down by months of flying during the pandemic – both domestic and international flights. 

Now as they get ready to assist with the distribution of a COVID vaccine, the association is asking for more COVID testing.

“The pilots that fly into the D.C.-area, none of them are being tested when they get in or fly out from the D.C. airports... were a critical component, the airlines don’t move without us and we need healthy pilots, we need testing, and we need a real contact tracing,” said Gaudet. 

UPS’s CEO has said in a recent interview she is watching the spike in cases closely. She also said the company's expanding its freezer capacity to support the vaccine distribution plans.  

FOX 5 reached out to UPS for direct comment on whether they'll be adding more testing for their pilots, but have not yet gotten a response.