This is a reblog from “The Gadabout,” a blog by a pilot who writes of his flying experiences. In these two blog posts written several years ago, he gives his personal accounting of live horse shipments from Calgary, Alberta to Japan, which have been previously documented by the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition. You will also notice in the original blog photos that the horses are shipped multiple animals to one container, which is contrary to IATA regulations, an issue the CHDC also brought to the attention of Transport Canada and the CFIA in 2012.
It’s not possible to confirm or deny the claims made here about incidents with horse shipments at this time, and some of the transport companies mentioned here may no longer be involved and other participants may have changed. Atlas Air and Korean Air are the companies that have now been observed doing the shipments – Fedex is no longer involved. Please do not leave negative comments on his blog, but instead view it as a very revealing first person accounting of the logistics and tragedy of live horse shipments from Calgary to Japan, preceding a protest of the practice at YYC (Calgary Airport). If you live in the Calgary area, please plan to attend this peaceful protest on April 16, 2015.
Head ‘em Up! Move ‘em Out!
“Me and the boys are settled down around the campfire here in Fukuoka, Japan after a big day out on the range a-bustin’ broncs. (Please recall, gentle reader, a previous email where I informed you that “Fukuoka” is pronounced “Foo Ko Ka”. Let’s not have any frivolous mispronunciations here.)
OK, they weren’t doggies and they weren’t broncs. They were Percherons and Belgian Draft Horses. We moved 57 head of them critters from Anchorage to Fukuoka yesterday. That’s an 8 hour flight and let me tell you, pards, being stuck in a closed aluminum tube for 8 hours with 57 one-ton horses is an olifactory event. But I get ahead of myself.
There is evidently a big demand for horsemeat and horsey byproducts here in Mysterious Japan. Mitsui & Co, Ltd, Foodstuffs Division, is making enough money to pay FedEx handsomely to fly these behemoths from a ranch in Calgary, Canada to Fukuoka with a refueling stop in Anchorage. The ranch raises them for their first three years until they are full sized. We’re talking Budweiser Clydesdale size horses, here: they average 2000 lbs a piece on the hoof. Once they’ve achieved full horsey adult status, they go to Japan where they are evidently further fattened up before slaughter.
There were two horse charters flown yesterday for a total of 114 horses which is the maximum limit of the horse quarantine facility in Fukuoka. Fifty seven horses – my weight and balance sheet yesterday said they and their containers weighed 131,600 lbs – produce a lot of byproducts that have to taken into consideration when crammed into a wide body jet for many hours. First, there are the clever “Instone” Horse Containers. These cans keep the horses and the horse emanations from running around all over the back of the jet and the cargo hold. Makes the clean up process much more efficient, pards. Note the can does not have cute little yellow “dixie cup” oxygen masks that drop from the ceilings. If our aircraft “loses cabin pressure” – well, Pilgrim – them horses is screwed.
Please ignore the Atlas 747. FedEx has the charter now. Evidently other charters operators have let the horses get too hot and killed the whole plane load.
The charter comes with a certified “Horse Handler” – ours was from Ireland – and a FedEx loadmaster. The horse handler has a big ol’ syringe full of horsey tranquilizer and happy juice should one of those monsters grow too unruly.
There are several pages of instructions contained in the MD-11 flight manual that pertain to carrying livestock. We needed to take advantage of every one of them yesterday. Normally, we run the air system in the MD-11 on “Econ”, i.e, low air flow since there are at most only 5 people on the jet and running the air conditioners on full uses excess fuel. So I had to be sure to turn Econ off during preflight. Some jets have been modified with extra air lines and valves to be “High Flow” jets. Those airplanes had to be specifically tasked against this charter. Next, some of our jets only have a “Nine-G” cargo net and a flimsy plastic “vapor barrier” separating the courier and cockpit area from the cargo hold. Those won’t do. A horse charter has to have a rigid bulkhead system between the horses and the people. Operating out of Econ and in High Flow require increased fuel burn planning. So I and the dispatcher had to make sure we had enough gas to offset that.
Finally, all jets maintain cabin pressure by opening and closing an “outflow valve”. Conditioned Air from the A/C packs flow into the cabin. The outflow valves open and close automatically to maintain an exact cabin altitude. The problem is that 57 horses produce a lot more humidity than the aircraft designer planned for. That moisture can get in the outflow valves and at stratospheric cold temperatures they will freeze the valve in place. Being unable to control the cabin altitude half way across the Pacific with none or little divert options would be a bad thing. So every 30 minutes we had to go manual on the pressure controller and “exercise” the valve to keep it from freezing. Gotta tell you, pards, that gives the ol’ Eustachian tubes in the ears a work out, guarontee [sic] it.
What the book doesn’t tell you and you really need to know is that it is a really good idea to wrap your bags in plastic. If you don’t, your bag and it’s [sic] contents will smell of horse until you get to a time an place that will allow you to clean them. So, we spent and extra 10 minutes bagging all the stuff we wouldn’t need during the flight. Further, once we leveled off at cruise, the first thing we all did was to take off our uniforms and get into some old clothes. Then we bagged the uniforms too – hermetical seals, baby.
The cockpit wasn’t too bad, although you could tell that you had horses in the jet with you. But once you went back to the courier compartment for “physiological breaks” and to cook your meal, the odor of horse almost knocked you down. I’m sure my grandfather is laughing at me now: “That’s the smell of money, boy.” But, Popper could step out of the barn into the fresh air and we couldn’t.
Finally, we were supposed to hawk the temperature controls back in the cargo bay and keep the temperature right around 60 degrees. The packs were working just as hard as they could – I had them turned full cold – to keep them at 60 degrees.
What I didn’t expect – and I should have – was what happened during the approach and landing. Descent requires you to pull the power back – which significantly impacts the air coming into the packs. I tried to keep the power up a little, but there is only so much you can do and still descend, so the temps in the jet just shot up quickly. Elementary physics says that hotter air can’t hold as much humidity and by the time we landed we had moisture dripping off of the ceiling everywhere inside that jet. Yucky horsey moisture.
I wanted to go back and get some pictures of the horses but there wasn’t time before takeoff……and going past the rigid barrier during flight into the real miasma was counter indicated and I chose not to.
So the only pictures I got were of the unloading process at Fukuoka.
I was surprised at how calm the horses were during this process. It seemed like about every hour or so during the flight, one of the horses would start stamping back there in his can and it literally shook the whole airplane. During approach and landing it felt like they were doing a break dance back there. We tried to brake the minimum necessary and roll out the full length of the runway to keep from tossing them around. One or two really exuberant stomping episodes felt like a serious of small explosions to me.
As you look at these pictures, please note that these horse containers have seen some wear and tear and are not nearly the nice homey stalls that the thoroughbreds get when they travel. Certainly, none of these guys were Mr Ed.
Just a short layover here in FUK – yup, that’s Fukuoka’s identifier, I don’t make ‘em up, I just have to live with ‘em – but it’s a very nice hotel.
We had a really nice meal at a restaurant around the corner that served American style food: “Cafe George” was the name. All six of the two horse charter crews plus one load master all went together. All of us were ex Air Force and we told lies and swapped war stories for a couple of hours and a good time was had by all. Much better than eatin’ Cookie’s grub out the chuck wagon, I gotta tell you, Pilgrim.”
The Horse Charter Follies
About 6 months ago I wrote about flying a horse charter to Fukuoka, Japan. Evidently, there is a big market for horsemeat in Japan. Japanese restaurants evidently think Belgian Draft horses make really good sushi (Basashi) so there are ranches all over the landscape around Calgary and Edmonton that grow thousands of these huge horses. They weigh about 2000 lbs apiece by the time they are two years old and then we haul ‘em to Japan. We ship them three horses to a roll-on-roll-off ‘can’.
Since we can not load enough horses and fuel to be profitable and fly non-stop, we fly them in two legs, the first to Anchorage to refuel and then on to Fukuoka where they are quarantined and then fattened for slaughter.
Gentle Reader, yesterday turned into yet another mechanical saga – the worst in fact of this two week stretch of work I’m on. First, 57 horses jammed into the aluminum tube of a widebody jet require some significant life support. You have to keep the air moving in and out for cooling and respiration. That many huge horses can generate a lot of body heat and a lot carbon dioxide. So, when we start loading them, we switch the airplane’s A/C packs to ‘high flow’ and crank the temperature as low as we can get it.
The next piece of information in this comedy of errors I’m relating is that Calgary is served by FedEx Airbus 300’s normally. The mechanic assigned to our flight was – on paper – qualified to work on MD-11’s but the most he’d ever done was top-off the ‘serviceables’ – fuel, oil, hydraulic fluid, oxygen and so forth. He might have changed a light bulb too…….
The airplane had just flown in from Hawaii and when it landed, the crew could not get one of the electrical buses to connect to the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU). The APU is small jet engine turbine that sits in the tail and provided electricity and air to power, cool and start the airplane. If it can’t power the electrical buses, we are ‘hard broke’ – it’s got to be fixed or we can’t fly.
So a discussion occurs between the loadmaster and the mechanic: ‘How long will this take to fix? Can I start loading the horses?’ Without really thinking this through a decision is made to load them up. I am reminded of the scene in Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail where the bad guy drinks from the wrong cup and turns into dust. As the Knight Templar said: “He chose poorly.”
After the horses are loaded, the mechanic discovers that fixing the electrical problem is much more involved than he previously thought. It will require changing an electrical relay down in the electrical compartment between the landing gear. Further, we have to take all the electrical power off the airplane so it will be safe for him to switch out the relay. Since it is a ‘black box’ it shouldn’t be more than 30 minutes to change out.
Gentle Reader, it was a cool rainy day in Calgary – the temperature outside was just below 60 degrees and good strong breeze was blowing. If it had been normal Memorial Day weekend weather those horses would have been in big trouble because it took 5 hours to fix the jet.
First, our intrepid mechanic had to read the manual and follow it step by step. Evidently the compartment involved is very tight and it is tough to get the heavy black box in and out. Secondly, routing the cables involved is very tricky and requires some previous knowledge and this guy has none. He’s on the phone to the Maintenance experts in Memphis and they are talking him through this process.
I must start another aside here to further this tale. Several years ago, FedEx subcontracted one of these charters to Gemini Airlines. Gemini had some old, beat up 747 freighters that had bad air-conditioning systems in them. They were not up to the charter task and in fact they killed all the horses through lack of oxygen and carbon dioxide inhalation. My loadmaster on yesterday’s flight was also the unlucky loadmaster stuck with this tragedy. He’s really sensitive to horse mortality as he does not want his name associated with yet another incident.
So, about an hour into this process, it is getting steamy in the back of our jet. It’s dark, hot and you can’t see but two or three horse cans back. The loadmaster says to me the chilling words: “Geoff, this looks exactly how the Gemini disaster looked. We gotta do something.” So, we go down to the electrical compartment, get the mechanic out of there, put some power back on the jet so we can open up the aft doors on the main deck to let the breeze blow some air through the jet.
At this point a new problem arises. The only way to open the aft doors is to squeeze between the horse cans and the side of the jet all the back by the tail. When they get there, they discover that the wiring to the doors has been disconnected – since we never use those doors – as a security precaution. So, now they have to reassemble the wiring harness. This takes about 30 minutes and they are 100 feet aft of where I am up in the front of the jet and out of communication.
About 20 minutes into this process, I realize that if heat and CO2 inhalation can kill a horse, it can kill a person too. (I’m quick that way.) They did not take any kind of breathing equipment back with them. My imagination begins to work. So, I go back as far as I think I can safely go into the miasma. You can’t see 10 feet back…..and I begin shouting to see if they can hear me.
Gentle Reader, shouting near 57, large, hot, miserable horses is a bad idea. They begin kicking and stomping and generally making a fuss and shaking the whole airplane. If the loadmaster and the mechanic are answering me, I can’t hear it for all the uproar. I do feel somewhat better about the two guys since I’m thinking that if the horses still have energy to kick, then they are getting oxygen. But I’m still wondering if I’m going to have to call the fire department and have them go back there with breathing apparatus to resuscitate and rescue them. Finally, the horses settle down enough that I can hear them shout that they’ve just about got it open.
About the time they get the doors open, some more ground guys show up with an air-conditioning cart and they stick the big hose up in the doors and begin pumping cool air into the airplane. Now the mechanic can shut down the power again and go back to work fixing the jet.
In the meantime, the loadmaster starts working another issue. We have a ‘no later’ than time for the horses to arrive in Fukuoka. After that the airport is closed. If we go to Anchorage but can’t get to Fukuoka, there is no place to stable the horses. The horse handlers specifically state: “If we can’t get the horses to Fukuoka, we’d rather keep them here.’ They do have a temporary stable system in Calgary to get them off the jet. The Global Ops people say they understand this issue.
Finally, we are repaired and ready to go. The loadmaster makes one last call and confirms we are good to go all the way including the refueling stop and crew change in Anchorage and we blast off.
I have some aerodynamic information to share now, gentle reader. If you’ve ever listened closely to the Space Shuttle mission controller talking, he says as the shuttle passes through about 25000’ above sea level “Now entering the region of Max Q.” You can get the fastest subsonic speeds through the atmosphere in the region of Max Q but you burn a lot more gas. In order to expedite the trip up to Anchorage, I call Global Ops and get a new flight plan and fuel burn for staying that low and to make up some more time.
About halfway to Anchorage we discover that the air-conditioning can’t maintain the desired temperatures in the back at 25000 feet and we need to go higher where the air is colder. So we abandon the speed run and climb to 36000 feet.
The nasty weather around Calgary cleared up about 100 miles east of Juneau and we got some fantastic views. We were behind and above a United 777 that was going to Narita and it made a pretty picture.
Fifty miles further west, we saw this:
Juneau is in the little inlet in the upper right corner of this picture. Then north of Juneau we saw:
There is a cruise ship is right in the center of the picture.
Just after that, the 777 veered left to continue to the Orient and we kept going to Anchorage.
Letting down into Anchorage we flew right over Prince William Sound where the sun was shining just right on the waves in the water to make a rainbow reflection:
Just after that we passed over Whittier and the harbor that is home to other day cruises and fishing tours.
If you look close, there is a cruise ship moored at the docks. The only way to drive to Whittier from anywhere is through a one lane tunnel that serves both trains and cars. I wrote about it back in September. In this picture you can see where the road disappears into the tunnel. I tried to show the tunnel from both sides here but the clouds obscure some of the view. You can see Whittier in the left side of the picture, the big mountain the tunnel goes under and on the right side of the picture, under the cloud is the road as it exits the mountain and goes next to the Portage glacier and river.
Clouds closed in right after this and we got busy landing. We got permission from the tower to roll the full length of the runway and minimized braking to keep from throwing the horses around and then taxied in.
That’s when we discovered that the next crew couldn’t get to Fukuoka in time before it closed and the horses had to spend last night in the jet parked on the ramp at Anchorage. The horse owner was more than a little miffed.
And that, Gentle Reader, ends this saga. Today is a flight to Fort Worth, Tx. As more fascinating sagas occur, I will share them.
Until then, I remain,”
Dad / Geoff