Air Canada reunites pets and family separated by the pandemic

Air Canada Boeing 787-8

Tomal Sohorab, manager of cargo solutions and business development at Air Canada Cargo spoke to ACW about reuniting pets and owners separated by the pandemic and how the Airline is taking action against the illegal wildlife trade.

ACW: The pandemic has left many families separated by border closures- this includes pets as well. How has Air Canada Cargo (ACC) helped to reunite families and pets separated by the pandemic?

Air Canada pet charter, YVR_MEL with Worldwide Animal Travel

Tomal Sohorab: At the start of the pandemic when government travel restrictions and reduced passenger traffic caused a drastic reduction passenger flights, ACC pivoted to cargo-only flights to continue providing capacity on affected routes. These flights have proven to be ideal for reuniting families with their pets.

Since April of last year, ACC has moved over 1,500 dogs and cats on cargo-only flights, including a special flight from Vancouver to Melbourne that reunited 69 dogs and cats with their families.

We found that import regulations were constantly changing in this pandemic, and we opted to work with accredited animal shippers International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA) and Animal Transport Association (ATA) for all pet bookings.

Dealing with an accredited animal shipper makes it easier for pet parents trying to navigate through the changing import regulations. These specialists also offer emergency overnight assistance when required.

ACW: ACC was awarded the Illegal Wildlife Trade certification last year, what does this mean for the Airline?

Sohorab: Obtaining IWT certification was a team effort lead by Air Canada’s Environmental Affairs department and executed at the cargo level through collaboration between operational and commercial teams. We updated our cargo training manuals and procedures to include how to detect Illegal Wildlife Trade.

We also created a reporting process that includes referencing the IUCN Red List and confirming the CITES certificate, and if there is an issue to report to local authorities with Air Canada support.

Communication and trust is an important component in prevention. Our agents are empowered to reject and report suspicious shipments. We also engage with our suppliers and customers encouraging to adopt the IWT into their practices.

We do not permit the movement of lions, leopard, elephant, rhino, water buffalo trophies, narwhal tusks, and shark fins.

ACW: ACC has transported many live animals but bees seem as if they would be difficult cargo to fly. What is the process of transporting bees?

Sohorab: In 2019, we worked with our veterinarian consultant Dr. David Landers DVM on improving our handling process for bees. He provided valuable perspective on how bees behave in transport and how we could ensure their safe transportation.

We found that planning ahead for bee shipments was the key to safe transportation. By knowing in advance that an insect shipment is one that contains bees, our weight and balance planners can position the bees in the safest location of the cargo hold, pilots are informed and can set the correct temperature settings in flight, and ground handling partners or receiving facility is alerted in advance of the shipment so that resources can be planned to ensure the bees are handled as required by knowledgeable staff.

Air Canada bee shipment from New Zealand

We only accept bees for transport when they are encased in an approved IATA Live Animal Regulation Container 61, which is a non-escapable container.

We transport an average of 700,000 kg of beneficial insects per year (this includes crickets, beetles, bees, etc.).

ACW: Whilst the animals are on board, how do staff ensure the wellbeing and safety of animals?

Sohorab: We have unique procedures for every variety of live animal we transport, from lobsters, live fish, zoo animals travelling as part of conservation efforts, etc.

In 2018, as part of our commitment to excellence and to animal safety, ACC achieved IATA CEIV Live Animal certification to ensure our procedures, policies and training meet the highest industry standards.

Ultimately, it’s about having employees that are engaged and trained for animal handling. All our front-line employees who work in our facilities receive live animal training as part of the overall training. There are agents dedicated to animal bookings, so people calling to book a pet for travel have someone who is highly experienced to answer all their questions.

Additionally, we have specialists that are trained in animal husbandry at our Toronto facility, where we have the PetStop, a bonded kennel facility for animals in transit that require a comfort stop or a place to stay when they need to connect to a flight. These specialists are trained to care for and handle animals outside of their kennel for comfort stops, and in identifying forms issues that may require a vet (e.g. blood in stool, gastrointestinal inflammation, etc). And of course, we work very closely with Dr. Landers.

Otherwise, when booking animal transport, we opt for routings that provide the shortest travel time. Animals only travel on aircraft that can maintain comfortable temperatures.

Flight planning is also key: we make sure that animals are not booked for travel on flights where there may be compromised oxygen levels in the cargo hold from a substance like dry ice nor placed adjacent to another shipment that would somehow affect the animal’s safety and comfort.

While in our facilities, animals are kept in dedicated rooms before and after a flight to minimise noise and provide a comfortable temperature. To get to and from the aircraft, animals are transported as much as possible in temperature-controlled vehicles. Based on our procedures and the assigned high load priority of live animals, the animals wait in the dedicated vehicle until it is time to load or unload.