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Horsing around with IAG Cargo

By Adina Solomon on February 25, 2014

For a warehouse full of forklifts and workers, Swissport’s facility in Atlanta is quiet.

It’s 30 minutes until an IAG Cargo 747-8 freighter arrives at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Two trucks containing eight horses sit in the warehouse, waiting.

Until the freighter pulls in, everything is shut down. Any loud noise could spook the horses.

“It’s a sterile environment,” Bill Ribeyro, account manager at IAG Cargo, tells Air Cargo World. “We don’t want any undue sounds or disruption while they’re being taken care of.”

The horses, which are destined for private sales in the UK, just made the hour-long trip from Gainesville, Ga., where they underwent 30 days of quarantine. They originally came from Kentucky.

At 9:30 a.m., the freighter lands beside the warehouse, which is shared by a few airlines, and the operation bustles to life. About 11 people load the plane with general cargo, including a red, vintage Ferrari worth US$3.5 million (2.5 million euros).

Speaking of horsepower, the horses are ready to begin the process to be loaded onto the freighter. Each horse exits the trucks, which reek of hay, and takes a transfer ramp to a stall that is then locked (pictured right).

Half a hay bale per horse and two grooms travel with the herd.

“They’re responsible for their health,” says Dirk Ufer, IAG Cargo vice president customer services for North America and Caribbean.

During the flight, the grooms will sit up front, though there are stairs that lead to the horses. Any grooms must attend a one-day validation course in London in order to travel on the flight.

The horses are the last cargo loaded onto the freighter, so for now, they wait in their stalls, ready to fly.

IAG Cargo flies two 747-8s a week into Atlanta on an Atlanta-London Stansted-Cologne, Germany-Johannesburg route, but that is soon coming to an end. Effective May 1, IAG Cargo has an agreement with Qatar Airways to purchase capacity on Qatar-operated freighters. IAG Cargo was leasing three 747-8s from Global Supply Systems, which it will return at the end of April.

But for now, it’s 10:15 a.m. and workers are offloading cargo from the 747-8 in Atlanta. Observing the operation reveals all the little triumphs. Two workers high-five after they move a pallet off the plane. Once a large piece is offloaded from the plane’s nose, a worker shouts, “Woo!”

Then comes loading the cargo. This particular flight carries 100 tonnes.

Meanwhile, back in the warehouse, neighs from the horse stalls ring out every so often, and veterinarians arrive on site to check the stalls and oversee the loading.

In the downtime before the horses board the plan, Ufer and Ribeyro talk about notable cargo they have moved at the Atlanta facility, including the Batmobile from the recent Christian Bale Batman movies, a rhino, cheetahs and equipment for a wrestling tournament.

Eventually, all the cargo is loaded onto the 747-8, and it’s time for the horses’ flight. In the freighter, workmen flurry around as they move boxes and pallets into position. Through the open door in the back of the plane, the horse stalls slide in, landing with a hard thump against the other pallets.

The workers joke around as they load the 747-8.

“Horse in the box like jack in a box,” one says.

The horses don’t like to get jerked around, and the workers feel the shaking as the agitated animals kick against their stalls. The neighing is loud, and the smell is strong.

But the horses, the last piece of freight, are in the plane, and takeoff time draws near. The flight to London is 7.5 hours. Once the 747-8 door closes and the cargo hold becomes dark, the horses will settle down.

One man loading cargo takes a look around the tonnes of freight packed into the plane. It’s like putting together a building.

“You know what’s amazing?” he says. “Buildings aren’t meant to fly – this does.”

 

Click here for a photo gallery of Air Cargo World's visit to the Swissport facility.