Rickenbacker Airport OK'd for Animal Transport

24 Jul 2015 1:05 PM | Deleted user

Airport joins small number of facilities approved by U.S. Department of Agriculture

Livestock now can get a lift overseas via Rickenbacker Airport.

For farmers who are in the animal-exporting business — like the one who shipped 20 pygmy goats to Kuwait last month — this is good news.

Rickenbacker recently became one of roughly 25 of the nation’s 550 airports to be certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to transport animals.

Before the airport received its certification on Dec. 31, the closest airports that could handle such jobs were in New York, Chicago and Miami. Two regional airports, one in Kentucky and one Cincinnati, can only transport horses.

Larry Baker approached Rickenbacker with the idea because those larger airports were stressing out his animals.

He manages livestock operations for TLT Silver Tiger Logistics and heads the Ohio Livestock & Genetics Export Council in Greenville.

“The major hubs like JFK and O’Hare are so congested and confusing,” he said.

Animal transportation hadn’t been considered by Rickenbacker before because getting approval from the USDA used to be difficult.

The Obama administration’s national export initiatives, launched in 2010, have made it easier to file the necessary paperwork and become certified, said Bryan Schreiber, business developer for air cargo for the Columbus Regional Airport Authority.

“I looked at it as an opportunity to delve into an area that we hadn’t served in,” Schreiber said.

He grew up around livestock in rural Ohio, but his enthusiasm for the initiative at the airport wasn’t immediately matched by his colleagues.

“They were having visions of having to wrangle a herd of cattle on a ramp, and it’s not like that,” he said.

Some voiced concerns about the airport developing a barnyard odor, but that hasn’t been a problem, either. The animals are housed on farms within an hour’s drive of the airport until they're ready to board the cargo plane, so there’s no traipsing through the airport’s parking lot or other areas.

Once onboard, the animals are placed in crates that are customized to fit each species’ needs, giving them enough room to stand or lie down during the flight. The flexibility of the crates also means there’s no limit to the types of animals that could be transported. As long as the crate fits inside the plane, they can ship it.

“Any limitations are actually between countries, depending on their procedures,” Schreiber said. “Some countries will accept a wide variety of animals and some will only accept certain animals."

Rickenbacker was already well-equipped to transport animals, Schreiber said. No renovations or additions had to be made to the airport. An old military hangar, already in working condition with water, heat and fire suppressants on board, was able to be reused specifically for that purpose.

So far, two animal transports have been handled. A cargo plane with 176 pregnant dairy cows flew to Thailand in March, and 20 pygmy goats were shipped to Kuwait in June.

“The United States has what they call superior genetics. Almost all of our animals are at the top of their class,” Schreiber said, explaining the market for American animals.

It’s easier to inseminate a herd here and ship them while pregnant, eliminating the chance of messing up the gene pool by mating the animals overseas. Plus, foreign buyers are getting two shipped for the price of one.

Ohio is leading the nation in the export of livestock genetics, Baker said, and he doesn’t see why Rickenbacker can’t become the main airport for all flights departing from east of the Mississippi River.

As farmers and others develop a comfort level with the airport, the shipment process and the care given to the animals, they’ll use the airport more frequently, he says.

There’s demand for the service.

Lufthansa, a German international airline, works through John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and transports roughly 25,000 animals each year among 100 countries. That includes 2,000 horses, 8,000 farm animals and 150 zoo animals.

And the service evidently is profitable enough to justify building a $48 million terminal at JFK specifically for animals, called the Ark.

The terminal will include livestock-handling services, a large animal-departure lounge, a LifeCare veterinary hospital and a pet resort, according to a news report by the Associated Press.

Schreiber said that although shipping animals by sea can be up to 10 times cheaper than shipping them by air, flights are preferred because they’re easier on the animals.

“It’s about keeping the animals happy, and you don’t want to keep them on a ship for a month,” he said.

No further animal flights are on the books at Rickenbacker at the moment, but Baker said he’s organizing a shipment of exotic animals, including black bucks and camels, to New Zealand in the coming months.

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