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Live and let fly

Growing numbers of international horse racing events are driving demand for transporting horses, while more and more domestic dogs and cats are travelling by air too. Owners expect their prize creatures to fly in style, as Kerry Reals finds out

Demand for the transportation of live animals by air varies depending on the species, but is largely steady across most groups. When it comes to racehorses and domestic pets, however, airlines, airports and freight forwarders are reporting an increase that is causing them to consider investing in expanding and/or improving related facilities and infrastructure.


The growth in popularity of international equestrian competitions is driving demand for valuable and prized horses to be flown around the world to take part and with the average cost of some such animals being in the millions of dollars, owners expect first-class service and en route accommodation.


One airport that is equipped to handle these horses is Miami International (MIA) – one of only two facilities in the US with an on-site equine quarantine centre managed by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). MIA handles more than 2,000 horses a year along with a host of other animals ranging from giraffes to zebras, with a total annual value of more than $280 million.


Horses have to stay in quarantine for an average of seven days after arriving in the country and having USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) veterinarians on site to clear the animals for their onward journeys ensures the process is as efficient as possible, says Ernesto Rodriguez, Chief of Aviation Marketing and Air Service Development at Miami-Dade Aviation Department.


“We see a trend that’s growing in livestock and that means we need to have the right infrastructure in place,” says Rodriguez. MIA’s facility contains 104 stalls for horses but Rodriguez says that as demand increases, "we will look into capacity on a year-by-year basis because we want to meet demand." 


Over the last few years, the market for importing and exporting horses for competitions has been growing by 3-5% annually. Between 1 October 2015 and 30 September 2016, MIA imported 2,275 horses and exported 2,735. Argentina was the source of 367 of this year’s imported horses, making it the top market in Latin America, while 1,116 came from Europe’s top market, the Netherlands. In addition, MIA handled 1,339 cattle bound for Latin America and the Caribbean.


This year was particularly busy on the horse front because many animals that took part in the equestrian events at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro transited through Miami. In addition, the Longines Global Championship Tour – a key event on the international show-jumping competition calendar – was held in April at Miami Beach for the second year running.


The world governing body of equestrian sport, the FEI, spelled out the growth prospects for these types of competitive events and the related opportunities for airlines back in 2013 when its president, Ingmar de Vos, addressed the IATA World Cargo Symposium in Doha. De Vos said at the time: “Our sport is growing faster than ever before and the role of air transport professionals as we go through this growth spurt is very clear.


“In the equine sector, there is great potential for the air transport industry, particularly for carriers that are modernising their aircraft fleets so they can carry horses and for those that are investing in suitable new aircraft specifically for moving horses safely, cost-effectively and efficiently.” 


Rodriguez describes the high standards that are expected when handling such esteemed horses and believes Miami goes ‘above and beyond’ what is required. “When you have a shipper who is going to bring over 70 horses to compete in one city, they want to feel like their horses are taken care of by a first-class service,” he says, adding: “We accommodate them in an area that’s not outside with the heat and humidity – they are in a beautiful air-conditioned building. It’s like going to a hotel.”


While MIA has enough USDA veterinarians at its animal reception facility to cope with current demand, Rodriguez says that more will be needed in the future. However, he notes that securing additional federal resources can be difficult: “As the market is going to grow, we need to have more USDA APHIS vets on site to meet demand. 


“When we see this market growing, we in the aviation department work very closely with the USDA vets – we have monthly meetings where we discuss that more staff are needed…but getting more federal inspectors is a challenge.”  >>

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