The Animal Lounge: Frankfurt Airport’s Flying Zoo
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The Animal Lounge: Frankfurt Airport’s Flying Zoo

27 May 2010

Airline passengers often complain about being treated like animals. In Frankfurt, however, animals have access to an exclusive domain. Airport Technology caught up with Lufthansa Cargo AG to find out about operations at the Frankfurt Animal Lounge.

The Animal Lounge: Frankfurt Airport’s Flying Zoo

The Frankfurt Animal Lounge, planned by Frankfurt International Airport operator Fraport AG, is widely regarded as the world’s most modern airport animal station. And – Lufthansa Cargo AG spokesman Michael Gontgens suggests – its name couldn’t be more apt.

"Just like in an airport lounge for passengers, we have arranged everything to meet the specific requirements of the animals travelling through Frankfurt airport," he explains.

"The previous animal station became outdated in terms of the latest requirements and was operating at full capacity. This facility is part of our plan for continuous growth of our animal business, which is approximately 3-5% per year."

Lufthansa Cargo Animal Lounge

Lufthansa Cargo has been providing animal transport solutions for more than 30 years. The Animal Lounge is on their cargo base, which is to the north of the airport. It combines handling, animal coordination and veterinary services in a single 3,750m² facility, which is about the size of a professional football pitch.

The lounge contains 42 large animal stalls; these have housed all sorts of guests, from rhinos arriving in Germany from South Africa, to hippos on a stopover from Israel to Vietnam. Others animals that have tramped, slithered and swum through include 1,500 polo ponies, masses of Chinese lugworms and innumerable tropical fish.

"The site is well staffed, with 25 vets and 60 carers on hand at all times to attend to the animals."

There are also aviaries and 39 smaller pens that cater for most domestic animals. Many pet owners opt to take their furry companions on their travels; cats and dogs make up the bulk of animal traffic with 14,000 travelling with Lufthansa Cargo every year.

The site is also well staffed, with 25 vets and 60 carers on hand at all times to attend to the animals. Veterinarians go so far as to examine ornamental fish under black light to avoid shock reactions that might blind them.

"We take into account the individual transportation requirements of each animal species and we have developed different transport concepts," says Gontgens. "The lounge has 12 individual, temperature-adjustable climate chambers that prevent thermal shock for animals such as baby chicks, goldfish and reptiles."

According to Fraport AG, the airport currently handles more than two million tons of freight a year, and recent figures rank Frankfurt International in seventh place among the world’s top ten airports in the cargo business. Despite lower-than-expected growth in 2009 due to the economic slowdown, cargo volumes are expected to reach 3.16 million tons by the year 2020.

Design features

Unlike similar facilities, the Animal Lounge is fitted with non-slip asphalt floors that are more comfortable for animals than traditional concrete. The loading area is weather proof and the examination area can be split into two, enabling one section to be completly isolated while work continues undisturbed in another.

"Partitions prevent any contact between animals being exported and imported."

"Animals with different EU health states are separated from each other in three different shelter areas, export, import and transit," says Gontgens. "The built-in partitions prevent any contact between animals being exported and those being imported." 

Individual areas can be further sub-divided into different sections to ensure that animals and their offspring can be shielded from the sight and sound of others – a useful feature if a jet-lagged dog is in no mood to hear the sound of an excited hyena in the next stall.

Protecting Animals During Transport

Lufthansa Cargo emphasises that animals are only delivered once they have been cleared by customs and veterinary authorities.

The operator must also comply with the International Air Transport Association Live Animal Regulations on the protection of animals during transport. These regulations also guide animal transporters on specific species – wild and domestic – that are not allowed to be transported by air, stored or imported.

"The entire facility is under constant surveillance with cameras strategically located throughout the station," says Gontgens. "Entry into Frankfurt Animal Lounge is strictly for authorised personnel, using a sluice system.

"Animals are only delivered once they have been cleared by customs and veterinary authorities."

"Each employee has two lockers: one for clothing inside the animal lounge and another for private clothes outside the station."

The main driving force behind animal air transportations are conservation programmes around the world; one day it might be wild horses being flown to their natural habit in Kazakhstan, the next an African bush pig en route to Poland as part of a zoo breeding programme. Racehorses on their way to international competitions are also some of the most frequent users of the lounge.

Whenever live animals are transported in the hold of a passenger aircraft, the captain has to inspect the animals to assure him or herself that the cargo looks fit to fly. With live freight in the hold, the captain is handed a green loading bill specifying "special load information to cockpits", on which the ideal temperature range in the hold is noted.

Rajiv Ghandi International Airport

Although the Frankfurt Animal Lounge is regarded as the most modern in the world, other airport developments around the world are currently incorporating similar state-of-the-art animal facilities.

The Rajiv Ghandi International Airport in Hyderabad, India, recently inaugurated two new quarantine stations at the airport. The first is a 10m² station located at international arrivals, and the other is a 40m² facility built at the cargo satellite building.

As other airports begin to follow Frankfurt’s example and open facilities such as this, it seems likely that we may soon see smiles replace frowns when passengers utter the words "we were treated like animals".