SPECIAL CARGO: Live animal transport

posted on 4th April 2018

Growing demand and increasingly exacting customers and regulations are causing airlines, handlers, and airports to invest greater resources in better facilities and processes for live animal transport, writes Mike Bryant

The transport of live animals by air and the way carriers and airport-based facilities handle animals are to a large extent based on the Live Animal Regulations (LAR) produced by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The LAR is described by IATA as “the global standard and the essential guide to transporting animals by air in a safe, humane and in a cost-effective manner”.

Andrea Gruber, senior manager special cargo at IATA, says the way the industry transports animals by air has changed a lot in recent years, due to greater understanding of the needs of animals when they are being moved and because of the improvements in technology now available to the industry to ensure that animals are stressed as little as possible during any flight.

IATA first published the LAR in 1969 in the form of voluntary guidelines; subsequently, five years later, the LAR became mandatory for all airline members of the association. The LAR is amended on an annual basis by IATA’s Live Animals and Perishables Board (LAPB), which meets twice a year to consider industry proposals vis-à-vis new technologies and changing requirements in the area of live animal transport and includes a diverse range of carriers such as FedEx, Cargolux, Lufthansa, Air France-KLM and Delta. The LAPB works closely with relevant specialist bodies; indeed, it has access to an advisory panel that incorporates specialists such as the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) as well as an Animal Care Team composed of vets and other animal care professionals to provide their input.

Today, there is certainly greater pressure on airlines and the aviation industry to offer the most comfortable journey as possible for live animals than there was in the past, as manifest in pubic awareness of the issues and ever-stricter government legislation, Gruber suggests. But carriers have not just responded to external pressure – they have also taken the lead on the issues on their own initiative.

This is perhaps due in large part to the greater demand from their shipper customers for live animal shipments; whether it be for pets being flown with their owners, wild animals being moved between zoos or reserves for conservation, horses being shipped for races or other equine events, demand for animal transport is growing. Flying offers the significant benefit of speed, something that is frequently vital in terms of animal transport.

“There is always room for improvement,” Gruber says, but points to the increasing attention being placed by airport authorities as well as airlines in terms of offering the appropriate facilities as a result of the growing demand. Airlines, Gruber says, have invested in new services, relevant training for their staff, and new equipment. And more and more carriers now offer dedicated animal transport products, including the use of state-of-the-art horse stalls, for example, while encouraging the presence of grooms or other animal care attendants when animals are flown on their aircraft.

Meanwhile, IATA and its LAR are continuing to evolve; for example, attention is being paid to considering wider multimodal issues, looking at how animals should be transported on the ground to and from airports, as well as how they can be best cared for at those gateways and on connecting flights.

The carrier’s perspective

The Middle Eastern cargo carriers are among the most frequent fliers of live animals. They have the large widebody freighter fleets to accommodate animals, and they also operate from a region where animal shipments – particularly horses – are common.

Hiran Perera, senior vice president, freighters, at Emirates SkyCargo, observes: “The transport of live animals requires expert and sensitive handling and full compliance with the rules laid down in national laws, the IATA Live Animal Regulations (LAR) and other regulations such as CITES, the inter-governmental treaty aimed at protecting endangered wildlife. When it comes to an actual shipment, various considerations would also need to be taken into account, from the type of animal, breed, age, and possible temperature requirements. Our staff are trained in accordance with the IATA LAR standards and, in addition to the LAR training, specific handling instructions from the customer, if any, are also strictly adhered to.”

Perera says the company’s SkyCentral facility in DWC has separate holding areas for live animals, including special facilities to offload the horses with horse ramps. “We also have different rooms with different temperatures to cater to the temperature specification of particular animals,” he adds.

Fellow UAE carrier Etihad Cargo says live animal transport is certainly an area it is growing in – and where it wants to be recognised as one of the best. Etihad Cargo vice president David Kerr adds: “We are increasingly working with zoos and conservation projects in this area. Sky Stables is our specialised product for the equine industry and continues to be popular with horse trainers and stables around the world. Owners, breeders and equestrian organisations all have access to our bespoke global transport services and products available on our fleet of widebody cargo freighters.”

Anti-slip floors

Horses are among the many species frequently flown, travelling in dedicated stalls equipped with anti-slip floors, which are then loaded in temperature-controlled sections of the aircraft, Kerr explains. “Throughout the flight, the animals are attended to by their grooms, ensuring they are kept in a fit and healthy condition until their arrival at destination.”

He says the Etihad Cargo live animal transport offering is being continuously improved. “With the delivery of new freighter aircraft in 2016, we’ll be more flexible in offering support to larger equestrian group movements and some of the big stables around the world,” Kerr says. “We’re enhancing our product further by adding up to nine seats in our newer aircraft, which allows for a higher ratio of grooms to horses, which is increasingly a requirement of shippers of high-value horses. Having this capability also enables us to bid for major sporting events such as the Olympics, and major international horse trials in the future.

“It’s a complicated process, which is why our specially trained staff and shippers work very closely with clients to understand to meet their specific needs,” he adds.

Elsewhere in the Gulf, Qatar Airways has placed a similar emphasis on its animal transport offering, boosted by the generous facilities at its new hub airport. Ulrich Ogiermann, chief officer cargo at what is now the world’s third-largest international cargo carrier, remarks: “Our live animal facilities are world class and allow us to handle animals transiting, departing or arriving in Doha. It’s also important that live animals are handled properly in the network, so we carefully assess the handling capability for live animals whether that be for pets, bulk animal movements, horses, or other exotic animals.”

The 292,000sqm cargo complex area of the Qatar Airways Cargo hub at Hamad International Airport in Doha includes a 4,200sqm live animal facility, giving the carrier “the potential to offer the best care available to live animals entrusted into our care, both on the ground as well as in the air”, Ogiermann remarks.

Space for attendants or grooms for horses

Qatar Airways Cargo recently welcomed a seventh A330 freighter and first B747F nose-loading aircraft into its fleet. The B747 freighter is said by the carrier to be particularly suitable for flying live animals – capable of flying 4,100 nautical miles with a full load, it has seating for up to eight cargo attendants or grooms for horses. An automatic temperature control system is installed to maintain pre-selected temperatures in the flight compartment, supernumerary compartment, and maindeck cargo compartment, while the temperatures of the forward and aft lower deck cargo compartments are controlled separately and can be set and maintained between 4°C and 29°C.

The European airport connection

Many of the animal shipments flying into or out of the Middle East on carriers such as Emirates, Eithad, and Qatar Airways route via European gateways that also offer dedicated animal handling facilities and services. Lufthansa Cargo claims its Animal Lounge at Frankfurt Airport is “the most advanced animal station at any airport in the world”, while Amsterdam Airport’s Schiphol Animal Centre acts as a busy inspection point for horses being imported into the EU.

Leipzig/Halle Airport, also boasts a dedicated live animal handling resource, known as the Animal Export Centre (AEC) that has handled many animal shipments to or from the Middle East, including one in December that involved the shipment of 165 cattle on-board an AirBridgeCargo Airlines B747 freighter to Kuwait. The animals, which came from the German state of Saxony-Anhalt, were handled by PortGround, a company affiliated to Leipzig/Halle Airport, whose staff have been certified by IATA to handle large animals.

The airport’s AEC covers 1,300sqm, an area that incorporates various stabling facilities, an area to exercise animals, and recreation and relaxation rooms for those accompanying the animals. Veterinary personnel and customs officers, with a veterinary border inspection post, also work round the clock at the AEC.

According to a spokesperson from the airport, up to now the AEC has handled mostly horses, with animals moving on board a wide range of carriers, including Middle East-based freighter operators such as Turkey’s MNG as well as Qatar Airways Cargo. Many of the animals have been on their way to the region, while others have flown in from locations including Istanbul and elsewhere in the Middle East such as Bahrain.