Every air cargo commodity presents its own particular operational challenges to airports, carriers and other logistics service providers. Few ‘commodities’, though, have more specialised handling requirements when being moved by air – with potentially such serious consequences if things go wrong – than competition horses and livestock.
As a result, a highly specialised sector of the global air cargo industry, including airport operations, has developed to manage the movement of what are often very valuable animals.
European carriers Air France-KLM Cargo and Martinair Cargo, for example, have their own ‘Animal Hotel’ at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, with in-house government inspection facilities and additional stabling, and there are plans to start construction of a new facility able to accommodate all types of animal at Paris CDG Airport, France, this year.
The largest category of animal regularly transported by air is horses, specifically racehorses, show jumpers and polo ponies being flown to take part in events, for bloodstock purposes or to new owners. A second important group includes various types of livestock, such as cattle, pigs and sheep, mainly being shipped to help establish new production herds or flocks, or in support of breeding programmes.
Kenneth Bell, executive director of Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited (Hactl), says that for the transport of competition horses, carriers need specially configured stalls for use on aircraft, while cargo agents, breeders, racing stables and others who manage the transport to handling agents require specialised vehicles.
“Cargo terminal and airport ramp operators need considerable expertise in the safe transfer of the horses between the truck dock and the aircraft, and facilities designed specifically for the handling of this delicate and high-value cargo,” he says.
Bell says Hactl has a specially constructed livestock handling centre that enables direct connection of the horse-delivery vehicle to the aircraft horse stall on a dolly trailer. “The facility is located to minimise the distance between vehicle and aircraft. This means the horses only negotiate a gentle gradient – which is essential to prevent leg injuries – with reduced exposure to the airport environment, so minimising stress.”
Regarding other livestock, Bell says the relevant airport cargo terminals need sanitary and well-maintained areas for temporary holding of all types, with temperature control – which can vary for different types of animal – and suitable ventilation, lighting and filtered-water supplies. “Hactl’s facilities include two AVI (animal/livestock) rooms, one of which is temperature-controlled, located near the customer-interface areas for efficient handling.”
In addition to having the right facilities for livestock, airport organisations also need to tightly manage the timing and co-ordination of the handling operations to minimise any physical or other stress experienced by the animals.
“For racehorses and show jumpers, most of the cargo release and acceptance operations must be planned well in advance of arrival and physical handling to achieve just-in-time acceptance and release for the welfare of the animals,” adds Bell.
That process, he explains, includes documentation, sterilisation, equip-ment preparation, truck dock assignment and compliance with government formalities. “The whole process should fit seamlessly into the overall aircraft loading operation, and the ULD position on the aircraft is usually as close as possible to the cargo door to minimise loading/unloading times.”
The loading position is equally important when it comes to other livestock. “Airside towing must be conducted as quickly as possible, to minimise exposure to the elements and apron noise,” says Bell.
One of the main changes in the operational requirement of the general ‘livestock by air’ business in recent years has been increased demand from customers and the authorities to minimise the exposure of animals to the elements, which is why Hactl has invested so much in its facilities and streamlining of processes – particularly to cater for the heavy traffic in racehorses through Hong Kong.
Looking ahead, he believes airport handling operators are likely to increasingly invest in temperature-controlled ramp equipment to improve conditions for animal shipments during the apron transfer.
Leading carriers involved in the horse/livestock by air sector are also looking to further improve their services. “We expect more focus on welfare during long-term animal transport – hence we work closely with the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Utrecht, the Netherlands, to improve transport conditions,” says a spokeswoman for Air France-KLM Cargo
When it comes to selecting which airports should handle the international movement by air of horses and other livestock, air charter brokers and cargo general sales agents (GSAs) suggest that, in addition to the availability of the right facilities, other important factors include location to minimise the length of feeder road transport operations and, particularly in the case of Europe, the presence of equine and livestock Border Inspection Posts (BIPs).
UK-based air charter broker Intradco specialises in live animal movements around the world – particularly horses, for which the company designs its own aircraft stalls. Its managing director Eddie McMullen says the choice of European airport for flying in horses from outside the EU, for instance, is often limited by the availability of BIPs, which varies widely from one country to another.
“For example, France, which is a big country, has only got two importing stations – one at Paris CDG and the other is at Deauville in the north-west of the country. If you are bringing any horses into France by air from outside the EU, they have to go through one of those two points, which is pretty strange for such a large country,” states McMullen.
Outside Europe, McMullen says limited availability of airports that can accept inbound horses and livestock is also an issue in the US. “The US has got only three import stations for livestock coming in from other countries – New York, Miami and Los Angeles – regardless of where in the country the animals are destined for.”
Another airport-related challenge for companies organising the movement of horses and livestock by air is finding a suitable facility to handle those animals in the many new destination markets that continue to emerge.
A number of Middle East countries, in particular, have in recent years joined Europe, North America and the Far East, notably Hong Kong, as major centres for racehorse and show jumper traffic, while China, Nigeria and South America have become significant markets for polo ponies.
When it comes to other livestock, an ever-widening range of countries around the world are looking to increase their production of milk and meat by importing breeding stock, currently notably from Canada, which has a particularly good record when it comes to providing disease-free animals.
One illustration of that particular trade saw Russian carrier AirBridgeCargo Airlines last year transport 1,150 pigs from Winnipeg, Canada, to Moscow. The animals, weighing a total of 55 tonnes, were transported in special double and triple-deck shipping stalls on a B747 freighter charter flight.
Another example of a major livestock movement by air from elsewhere in the world during 2011 involved Air France-KLM Cargo transporting 500 pigs from Paris CDG to Shanghai, on a B747-400 ERF.
Some of the general issues resulting from the expanding geographical scope of the horse and livestock by air business are outlined by Jeremy Instone, managing director of UK-based Instoneair, whose roles in that business include acting as livestock business GSA for various airlines; as a charter broker, mostly working through agents or directly for big organisations like the Hong Kong Jockey Club; and providing its own-design horse stalls directly to airlines on a rental, lease or sale basis.
“Obviously some airports are better than others when it comes to handling horses and livestock. The better organised airports have a smooth process for getting the animals in and out, but in some parts of the world it can still be more like organised chaos,” says Instone.
“Generally, though, as airports realise the traffic is there, they start developing the systems needed. If you are talking about horses, the main requirements are a decent loading area, loading ramps to enable the animals to get from the bottom of a high loader or dolly onto the ground, and sometimes a corral system to stop them galloping across the airport.”
Similar points are made by the spokeswoman for Air France-KLM Cargo. “Not all countries have enough large and well equipped facilities, often due to budget restrictions; but things are progressively changing,” she says.
Luxembourg-based B747 freighter operator Cargolux says that even airports that are well used to handling horses and livestock can sometimes present challenges. “When it comes to an animal station like Luxembourg, for example, we need to check if the facility there is able to accommodate, at some times of the year, really large numbers of horses being shipped out or in transit,” says a spokesman.
Intradco’s McMullen says the availability of the right handling equipment, particularly hi-loaders to unload animals arriving on B747Fs and other large aircraft, is sometimes an issue when it comes to deciding which airport to use. “You might want to put a large freighter into a particular airport, say in Central Asia, but you end up having to go to another airport which has the facilities to handle such an aircraft,” he says.
Inevitably, another growing challenge for companies managing the movement of horses and livestock by air is security.
“The security side has become a lot harder and doubtless will get even more so as time goes by,” Instone says. “For example, when it comes to the movement of horses, a lot of airlines now require detailed information about the grooms who will be accompanying them on the flight a long time in advance, which makes for a long, drawn-out process. And, of course, getting airside at airports takes longer – vehicles and drivers have to be security-checked.”
McMullen highlights another issue, which, he says, is becoming an increasingly serious problem for companies looking to arrange the movement of horses by air.
“It is getting harder to find aircraft which have enough seats to accommodate all the grooms who might be needed to accompany a large shipment of horses,” he says. “Companies converting passenger aircraft into freighters seem to overlook the fact that people might be flying live animals and therefore have a requirement for seating.”
The international regulations covering the movement of horses and livestock by air have not changed significantly in recent years and look unlikely to do so, report logistics providers active in the sector.
“If you are talking about the movement of horses, for instance, the general international requirements have not really changed very much, and in respect of the IATA regulations, I don’t see much new coming through,” confirms a spokesman for freighter operator Cargolux.
Jeremy Instone, managing director of Instoneair whose activities in the livestock by air business include designing and supplying horse stalls, generally goes along with those views. However, he says that authorities like IATA, the UK CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) and the US FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) are paying more attention to the type of equipment used on board aircraft. “The regulations covering the design and construction of such equipment are getting a little tighter,” he observes.
Another area of regulatory control that is seeing change in some countries, continues Instone, is that relating to the cleaning of animal-handling equipment in order to improve disease control. “In some parts of the world it has become very complicated and expensive to clean such equipment after it has been used,” he claims.
Predictably, one continuing problem is a lack of global standardisation, for example when it comes to sanitation requirements.
“Even within the EU, where it may look as if there is standardisation of the regulations relating to such operations, EU legislation allows different interpretations by the member states,” reports a spokeswoman for Air France-KLM Cargo. “Standardisation worldwide would be difficult to achieve, but it would bring more clarity and therefore quality to the business.”