Animal transportation: Why Air Canada is leading the way

Transporting animals is big business, and as Ian Putzger finds, investment and a clear strategy is key to keeping revenue up.

Air Canada has blazed a trail on the way to broad standards for the transportation of animals. After several months of trials and audits the Canadian carrier was the first airline to obtain IATA’s CEIV Live Animals certification.

Air Canada and the London Heathrow Animal Reception Centre were chosen to pilot the new concept that IATA had formally launched in April.

Based on the organisation’s Live Animals Regulations, the CEIV scheme is designed to raise the level of competency and bring in a global standard against which participants are audited.

The airline did not have to make real changes to its processes to comply, as it already had very stringent rules in place, says Karl Chamberlain, Air Canada’s Cargo procedures and operational upport manager. Nevertheless, the audit process and the preparations took up quite some time, he adds.

Animal transportation: Air Canada and Animal air cargo
Moving a large numbers of horses can be a challenge

Abdulla Mohamed Shadid, managing director, cargo and logistics of Etihad Airways, has CEIV in his sights.

“As customers increasingly seek standardisation in the industry, we are actively pursuing several avenues to certify our facilities and processes in line with industry benchmarks, and CEIV certification is one of those,” he comments.

Other airlines and forwarders are welcoming the push for universal standards but are waiting for details to emerge.

“CEIV is too young now to comment. Air Canada are not a main deck carrier, so they don’t carry some types of animals,” remarks Charlie McMullen, global sales and development manager at animal transportation specialist Intradco.

He notes that a growing number of airlines have set up tailored products or refined their service. One of the most recent additions came in mid-August, when Emirates unveiled a dedicated pet service.

Based on its existing animal transportation offering, this includes features like door-to-door transportation and veterinary care around the clock.

In addition, the carrier partnered with a pet relocation service provider for a premium door-to-door option with elements like taking the pet for any required veterinary checks.

AirBridgeCargo has stepped up its game through the establishment of its CARE department staffed with specialised personnel.

It developed standard operational procedures that cover actions taken during unforeseen situations and monitors such shipments 24/7 through a control tower.

Animal transportation: Air Canada and Animal air cargo
Live chicks has become a steady business

According to general director Sergey Lazarev, this has been the main driver behind a 44 per cent surge in volume over the first eight months of this year.

Etihad has increased its focus on premium products this year, which has helped growth of its SkyStables and LiveAnimals services, Shadid reports.

“We are in the process of expanding our quarantine zone to allow for an increased intake,” he says, adding that another focus is on continuing the development and training of Etihad’s live animal teams.

These investments are driven by juicy yields as well as rising traffic in this segment. “Growth has been steady,” says Gerald Bergkamp, director specialities at Air France KLM Martinair Cargo.

In addition to established flows, new traffic has emerged. This spring Air Canada carried queen bees from Chile to its home market. “These bees create a special type of honey,” says Chamberlain, adding that this traffic helps boost Canada’s decimated bee population.

e-commerce has been another factor driving growth, as breeders use the internet to reach customers further afield, notes Jason Berry, managing director, Cargo at Alaska Air.

“We see increased shipments of pets around the world,” reports Bergkamp, adding that e-commerce has been a driver for this besides a rising tendency of travellers to take their pets with them.

This is more prevalent on routes involving European and North American cities than in regions like Africa.

The latter trend has also upped the ante at some carriers, spawning premium services to pamper pets. Lufthansa has an elevated offering that features special food and more space for the animals.

When they are in the German carrier’s animal lounge in Frankfurt for transit, an employee takes a photo of the animal for the owner. “It’s kind of a business class upgrade,” remarks Marco Klapper, product manager Live.

Alaska Air frequently carries pets from animal shelters to their prospective owners. “A lot is to do with adoption and placements,” says Berry.

“We see more large animal shipments, for example dogs from Korean meat farms. That’s dozens and dozens of dogs,” reports Chamberlain.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Amerijet carried many rescue animals, and later pets, to and from Puerto Rico, reports Liza Amich, the carrier’s Live Animal Coordinator.

“We have been moving a lot of pets, especially dogs, on behalf of adoption agencies in the US,” she adds.

Within animal transportation, the pet segment has been particularly strong. According to Air France KLM Martinair Cargo’s Bergkamp, this traffic has grown at a rate of 5-6 per cent for years.

Pets are the core market for Alaska Air, the second-largest animal carrier among US airlines, but its freighters have opened up new opportunities, especially with livestock and large animals moved by zoos, Berry says.

The airline has stepped up its game with functionality that gives animal professionals access to its portal to book shipments online.

“We wanted to talk to people to make sure they understand the process, but these people are professionals and they save time booking omline,” says Berry.

Livestock is another sector on the ascent. AirBridgeCargo’s Lazarev notes that this segment is up 10 per cent.

“The last three to five years have seen annual volume of live animals totaling to more than 130,000 tonnes. Around 20 per cent of this volume are livestock and bloodstock animals,” he adds.

According to Intradco’s McMullen, one driver of this traffic is the growing appetite of consumers in emerging economies. China is a large market, drawing in pigs and cattle from a number of origins.

Bull sperm is regularly carried for breeding, but the emergence of satellite farms has fuelled a growing trend to move cattle and pigs to set up ready herds, he says.

“Cattle is about 70 per cent of our livestock traffic,” he remarks. Although cows are loaded in single-tier boxes, they offer a loading density of up to 81.6 tonnes, whereas pig shipments can only go up to 54.4 tonnes, despite the use of double- or even triple-tier stalls. This is because of the heat generated by pigs.

“There are limitations with pigs. The odour can be considered harmful to passengers,” remarks Air Canada’s Chamberlain.

“We do quite a bit of livestock, some pigs and cattle. There is a misconception that a belly carrier can’t do that, but a 777 has a lot space,” he adds.

Besides cows, pigs, sheep, goats and other farm animals, AirBridgeCargo regularly moves hatching eggs and day chicks.

Air France KLM Martinair carries large volumes of day chicks, which has been a steady business for years. For the most part they move from North America to Europe and beyond.

The carrier is currently working on a chicken lounge at its Amsterdam hub; a room licensed by the government with controlled temperature settings and air flow. Bergkamp expects this to come on stream next year.

Horses travelling to and from shows and equestrian events are a large portion of animal transport for Amerijet, reports Amich.

Equine traffic is also a prominent sector of Etihad’s business. The airline moved 60 horses between Belgium and Hong Kong for a major event this year, and flew as many as 99 horses from Miami to Amsterdam. “This is another popular equine route that we frequently operate,” remarks Shadid.

Moving large numbers of horses is a headache for Intradco. Citing security regulations, many airlines restrict the number of seats for grooms to two or three, reports McMullen.

According to him, three grooms are needed to look after more than 15 horses, and four are required when the number of horses exceeds 30.

Etihad sees steady local demand in its home market for seasonal transportation of horses, family pets and falcons.

“The latter is of particular interest as falconry is a popular pastime in our region, and Etihad has leveraged our positioning to become one of the leading carriers in transportation of falcons and birds,” Shadid states.

The rising volumes of animal shipments begin to show at transit hubs. Lufthansa’s animal lounge at its Frankfurt base operates at capacity on some days. “We’re looking at expansion,” says Klapper.

Animal transportation: Air Canada and Animal air cargo
Lazarev says there has been a surge in volume over the first eight months of this year

Over 90 per cent of the airline’s animal traffic passes through the facility, which has been in operation 24/7 since its opening 10 years ago.

Pressure has been less intense from the transport of exotic animals, which has been relatively steady, according to Klapper. Lufthansa manages about 150 such transports in a year.

In March AirBridgeCargo carried six Beluga whales from Moscow to Haikou. The animals were on their way to local dolphinariums on Hainan Island.

The combined weight of the animals and their tanks was 16 tonnes, not counting three grooms who looked after them on their journey.

Intradco had to be nimble when it moved a black rhino from a zoo in San Diego to Tanzania for mating purposes, in an effort to counter the threat of extermination of the species.

The animal flew on B777 and A330 freighters from California via Liege and Doha to Entebbe, where it was to be transferred to a Hercules to carry it on the final airborne leg of its journey.

However, the Hercules was not available, owing to a cracked windscreen, so Intradco had to scramble to charter an alternative aircraft in time.

Animals and aircraft can be a potent combination for iconic images and stories, but the repercussions can be ugly if things go wrong. United Airlines suspended its animal programme for over a month earlier this year after some mishaps while it conducted a thorough review of its set-up.

Animal transportation: KLM and Animal air cargo
Investment is creating attractive yields in animal transport

It subsequently shrank its pet service to accept only cats and dogs, and embargoed over 20 dog breeds and four breeds of cat that are highly stress sensitive and in elevated danger of suffering respiratory problems.

The episode prompted some soul searching among other airlines, but for the most part they have maintained their existing list of animals eligible for transportation.

“With cats and dogs, we have to verify the breed. Snub-nosed animals can suffer respiratory problems, and we don’t transport these any more,” says Chamberlain.

“Otherwise we allow for all types of animals, as long as they are in the right packaging. We verify the documentation and make sure that they are in proper packaging.”

Amerijet carries a broad range of animals – from pets and horses to crocodiles, llamas and marine life for aquariums – but primates are off limits, states Amich.

“One of the biggest challenges our industry faces is curbing the illegal wildlife trade – a multibillion-dollar industry which is unfortunately growing and having devastating impacts on wild animal populations. Much of this is animal parts or products, but live animals are also illegally carried,” comments Shadid.

“We have zero tolerance for such illegal activities.”

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