Transporting Live Animals By Air

Transporting Live Animals By Air

This Article provides general information about the safe transportation of live animals by air. For more detailed information and guidance on this subject, refer to the links provided throughout and at the end of this Article.

Why are live animals transported by air?

There are many reasons why people wish to transport live animals. The animals may be personal pets, or guide and assistance dogs. They may be sporting animals, agricultural animals for breeding, food animals being transported for slaughter, zoological animals and species being transported for reasons of science. Transporting animals for long periods of time is considered unnecessarily cruel and to be avoided whenever possible. Therefore, for long journeys the only speedy option is to use aircraft.

Regulations, Standards and Conventions

Because air transport is the most humane way of transporting live animals on long journeys, it is important to ensure high standards are maintained by all those involved: veterinary inspectors, animal keepers, handlers and attendants, container manufacturers, air carriers, pilots etc. This is best achieved through regulation and oversight.

Regulations for the transport of live animals need to set a balance between ensuring compliance with aviation safety requirements and practice, and treating animals humanely in accordance with current welfare standards. The safety of crewmembers, passengers and animal handlers also need to be considered.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is not a regulatory body, but airline members of the Association are obliged to ensure IATA’s Live Animals Regulations (LAR) are followed. As such, IATA’s LAR has become the worldwide standard for transporting live animals by commercial airlines, and supranational and national regulating bodies reference it. As well as providing guidance for airlines, the LAR is used by shippers, freight forwarders, and animal care professionals. The LAR contains a comprehensive classification of 1000’s of animal species along with the container specifications required for their transport. It also includes information on handling, marking & labelling along with necessary documentation when transporting animals by air.

International and national regulations will also apply. It may not always be the case that compliance with the LAR will meet these requirements and air carriers will need to ensure that all regulations are followed. For example, the Australian National Consultative Committee on Animal Welfare (NCCAW) (Position Statement - October 1993, revised 2007) considers the LAR as minimum standards only and not fully satisfactory for the types of native species transported interstate throughout Australia. The UK Government has released it’s own guidance to help airlines comply with European Regulations as well as meet the standards of the LAR.[1]

The European Union Regulation 1/2005 covers the protection of animals during transport and related operations. This supranational regulation applies to the transport of vertebrates only, and covers farmers moving their own livestock on their land, as well as the transport of live animals via road, rail, sea and air. The EU Regulation specifically requires compliance with the LAR (Annex 1, Chapter 2, paragraph 4).

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has also established a set of detailed guidelines for the transport of all animals[2]. These guidelines attempt to broadly follow the LAR.

Aircraft Manufacturers

All animals are handled as live cargo and most are stowed in the aircraft’s climate-controlled cargo bays unless the aircraft has been converted as a dedicated livestock carrier. Many airlines allow small pets to be carried in the passenger cabin under certain conditions; and there will be national guidelines to be followed when transporting guide and assistance dogs in the passenger cabin. Aircraft manufacturers can provide air carriers with specific information concerning the safe transport of live animals within each different aircraft type and model.[3] Especially with reference to loading, storage and unloading, and temperature and humidity control.

Key Factors

The key factors that affect the safe transport of live animals include the:

  • Aircraft Environmental Control System (ECS) settings,
  • Animal physiology,
  • Airport and en-route environments, and
  • Ground handling.

Optimal ECS settings, handling and packaging, and ideal loading configurations vary by species. Combinations of species in transit will complicate management of these key factors.

Environmental Control

Three environmental parameters need to be controlled in order to maintain the welfare and comfort of live animal cargo, and to prevent death. These are: temperature, relative humidity, and cargo compartment carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration. Depending on the species being carried (and their age, and state of pregnancy) each of these parameters vary considerably. For example, most large farm animals fall within the ranges 4.4 to 26.6 °C, 0 to 75% humidity, and 0 to 3% CO2; whereas one-day old poultry require 32 to 37 °C, 0 to 80% humidity and 0 to 0.5% CO2.

Humidity and CO2 levels inside the cargo compartment may not be controllable directly by the ECS settings, and the hold temperature set by the pilots is not necessarily what is experienced by the animals. The supplied air obviously has some vapour and CO2 content, but when entering the cargo compartment it mixes with the existing air, which in turn has been affected by the animal body temperatures, exhalations and emissions. Data, gathered from in-service experience, of the air condition in each cargo compartment, can be used to make decisions concerning what animals to carry where on the aircraft, and how many. The number of animals planned for carriage can always be reduced and distribution planned throughout an aircraft’s cargo compartments (where possible) in order to ensure climate conditions are suitable.

Some aircraft ECS and cargo compartment configurations allow for airflow rates to be adjusted. Higher airflow rates should be selected for high-density animal loads; this will incur a fuel penalty, which may affect aircraft range.

Where a cargo compartment does not contain any animal or temperature-sensitive cargo, air conditioning to this area can be turned off if this provides greater ventilation in compartments containing animals, without raising their temperature through heat-transfer. This may also help reduce fuel burn.

On The Ground

ECS need to be able to cool cargo compartments adequately when external ambient temperatures are high during ground operations (taxiing, pre-take off, post landing and stopovers). Also, aircraft can become heat-soaked when exposed on the ground to strong sunlight, resulting in extremely high temperatures in the cargo compartments. Pre-loading, and pre engine start, the performance of an aircraft’s Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) and where available, external cooling systems will determine whether the conditions are suitable for animal loading.

It should always be the aim of carriers to reduce the time that animals are held in cargo compartments 
and therefore, close cooperation is required between flight crew, loading and unloading ground crew, animal-handling agents and air traffic services. For example, closing cargo doors last before departure and opening first on arrival may ensure greater airflow and more comfortable conditions for the animals. Also loading animals at night can avoid both higher ambient daytime temperatures and higher workload for the ECS.

During lengthy stopovers en-route, consideration should be given to off-loading the animals. In these situations and where animals may remain at the destination aerodrome for long periods before collection, consideration must be given to quarantine requirements, veterinary services, food, watering and protection from the climate.


It is essential to consult with aircraft manufacturers regarding specific recommendations for loading different aircraft types and models. However, the following factors should be considered.

  • Do not transport animals and carbon dioxide (usually in dry ice form) in the same compartment.
  • Avoid mixing live animals with cargo that contains a lot of moisture on the container, such as rain, snow, or ice, or liquids inside the container.
  • Load animal containers with enough space between pallets to allow air to freely circulate.
  • Spreading animals evenly within and between cargo compartments can help to reduce condensation, however, weight and balance limits will still need to be complied with.
  • Some areas within cargo compartments may suffer greater heat transfer through the walls, and animal densities should be reduced in such circumstances.
  • Animal containers, pallets and stalls need to maintain their location and their integrity during turbulence in flight.
  • Containers are designed specifically for different species of animal, and they should have adequate ventilation gaps and holes to allow air flow, and reduce localised temperature and CO2 build-up.
  • Container construction also needs to cope with animal behaviour that may weaken its structure, e.g. gnawing, clawing, kicking etc.
  • Container construction should allow for appropriate inspections, both in-flight and on the ground. Adequate lighting is therefore also required.
  • When animals are self-loading, the slope of loading ramps should be minimised to facilitate each animal species’ ability, and consideration given to batons or other anti-slip measures.
  • When transporting animals in belly holds (lower deck compartments), access in flight will not likely be possible. All aspects of the animals’ welfare need to be planned and accounted for, especially as temperature control is usually more difficult in these belly holds.

General Welfare

Apart from the factors discussed above, there are many other considerations for both packers and carriers to consider when transporting live animals.

The animals should be in good health, preferably not pregnant, and mixed species should not be housed in the same container. If sedation is deemed necessary, then it is advisable that a vet travels with the animal; note that sedated animals may not be able to maintain balance during turbulence and significant manoeuvring, and therefore they risk injury.

It may not be possible to address sickness, injury or death whilst in transit, therefore inspection during refuelling stopovers is essential. Handling of animals carries the risk of human contamination and cross-contamination between animals and other species, and therefore should be avoided whenever possible. Food items should not be stored near to animals for this reason. Although, there will be occasions when the destruction of a sick or injured animal, in transit, is required; and this must be conducted by a vet or someone with suitable experience. Some means of killing an animal, such as anaesthetic darts, can damage aircraft structures and systems if used incorrectly.

Arrangements for feeding and watering will depend on the species of animal involved and the duration of the journey. Some animals (e.g. reptiles) are able to survive comfortably without distress for long periods without food and water, others may benefit from fasting before loading onto the aircraft. Where water is provided, there should be mitigation against risk of animals drowning.

Oversight and Control

It is usual that people, or organisations, and airlines need to be authorised by a competent authority before they can transport live animals by air. Such authorisations will typically be time-limited and require re-authorisation periodically.

Personnel involved in the transport of live animals need to be adequately and appropriately trained to fulfil their responsibilities in accordance with national and international regulations. These personnel include: ground-handling staff, aircraft commander, loadmaster and aircrew, and animal attendant. On occasion, when authorised, a member of aircrew can fulfil the attendant’s duties. Competence will need to be demonstrated and requalification may be necessary.

Appropriate documentation is essential in monitoring the safe transport of live animals, these will typically include: certificates, declaration forms, journey logs and crate labelling.

Accidents and Incidents

  • HL-7601 was operating a Commercial Air Transport (Cargo) flight from Chicago O’Hare Airport to Brussels National Airport carrying 390 cows on the main deck. The aircraft was cruising at FL340 over the Irish Sea when the crew received a FIRE MN DECK AFT warning. A crew member went onto the main deck but saw no sign of smoke or fire. The crew suspected that the warning was false but decided to carry out the procedure in the Quick Reference Handbook for ‘Main Deck Cargo Compartment Suppression’, which involved donning oxygen masks and initiating a controlled cabin depressurisation and rapid descent. Following the descent, the crew made an uneventful landing at London Heathrow Airport where emergency services attending the aircraft found no evidence of smoke or fire. The pilot believed that the presence of the cattle led to higher than normal levels of humidity and that this was the cause of the warning. UK AAIB Bulletin 7/2012

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