Milano de Flore,waiting dozily at Frankfurt airport for a flight to Buenos Aires after competing in the London Olympics,had no idea how important he is to the air freight business.
That is because he is a horse one of the many millions of live animals whose transport by air has helped the operators cushion the ups and downs of the air cargo sector in the past few years with the lucrative specialty freight business.
Its stayed relatively constant throughout the crisis. Theres hardly any volatility like with usual freight. People just love animals, Axel Heitmann,head of Lufthansa Cargos Animal Lounge in Frankfurt,told Reuters.
And like other kinds of speciality freight such as pharmaceuticals that have to stay cold,perishables like flowers or valuables like gold animal cargo is more profitable than general freight.
Larger animals in particular such as dolphins bound for a water park in Dubai,giant pandas on their way to a new home in Paris or thoroughbred race horses offer carriers hefty margins.
Lufthansa Cargo,the freight arm of Germanys leading airline Deutsche Lufthansa transports around 100 million live animals per year,almost as many as the number of passengers served by parent Lufthansa.
That number does however include 3,000 tonnes of worms to be used as fishing bait and a lot of tropical fish,Heitmann said.
At around 30 million euros ($39.4 million) in annual sales,Lufthansa Cargos live animal business is still small,compared to its overall sales of 1.4 billion. But its absolutely a profitable business, Heitmann said.
Lufthansa invested at least 10 million euros in a new 4,000 square metre animal facility,the Animal Lounge opened in 2008,when its old facilities reached capacity and it was having to turn down business.
Lufthansa Cargo expects its animal business to grow revenues by about 3-4 per cent this year,Heitmann said. That compares with a fall of 9.2 percent in volumes for Lufthansa Cargos overall business in the first six months of the year.
Animals have been transported by air since the early 1930s. In Germany,the demand for moving pets via planes was driven in the early days by army personnel,who wanted to take their dachshunds back with them to the United States.
Nowadays,few airlines transport live animals because there are very strict regulations on the facilities they need to offer and how animals should be treated to keep them safe and well.