Five-star and the biggest and best of its kind

The scent of rose water in the air, the familiar deep burgundy color associated with Qatar Airways, and the sound of gentle lounge music playing through discreet speakers – the image that comes to your mind may be that of a premium airline lounge. And you would not be wrong. You may, however, be surprised to learn that this particular facility’s comfort and relaxation aspects have been designed with very specific passengers in mind: Welcome to Qatar Airways Cargo’s new Animal Center. The largest animal hub in the world!

Just ten years after its previous and already impressive, 4,200 m² Animal Center went into operation at Doha’s then pristine, new Hamad International Airport, Qatar Airways Cargo has now officially opened a massive, state-of-the-art successor. On 24APR24, local and international cargo press, along with representatives of some of the cargo airline’s largest clients, were invited for an exclusive viewing and question and answer session with Chief Officer Cargo, Mark Drusch, and the project and product managers involved.

The landside entrance to the world’s largest Animal Center. Image: Qatar Airways Cargo

Going beyond the interests of business
The new complex is the result of four-and-a-half years of intricate design and planning to deliver a facility unparalleled in its flexibility, scope, and size. “We learned a lot from the old facility,” Mark Drusch says, and you can almost see his eyes begin to water at the thought of the sum of money invested which he is discreet not to disclose. His pride, enthusiasm, and open praise to those involved in the now successfully completed project, however, is unbounded. “I had nothing to do with it,” he smiles, having been appointed to Chief Officer Cargo only at the start of this year, and pointing out and thanking his colleagues in the room, who have dedicated their work to ensuring the ultimate in wellbeing for the animals placed in the care of the Qatar Airways Cargo. Not just the animals, either, given that the press event is held in the “Groom Room” – a lounge area equipped with a sofa, private rooms, Netflix and self-service catering and beverage bar, for the benefit of the many grooms accompanying their horses on international journeys. Primarily the animals, however, as Mark Drusch emphasizes more than once in his welcoming speech: “the focus here is entirely on the emotional needs of the animals,” he stresses, and gives as one such example, the fact that cats and dogs travelling as pets (which make up between 10-15% of the carrier’s animal shipments), are played music to help them destress after and before their journey. He underlines that “we have gone beyond the interests of business, here. We have a five-star airline, a five-star airport and now a five-star Animal Center.

Largest carrier, facility and animal transporter in the world
As the largest carrier in the world with the largest segment of the animal transport market, it is only fitting that it should also operate the largest animal hub. And hub is what it is. Unlike its many, smaller, peers across Europe (AMS, LGG, FRA, for example), the majority of the animals transit the airport as opposed to reaching final destination for onforwarding by truck. (And the scope for handling different species is greater.) The Animal Center sees a similar pattern to what happens to the general cargo, dangerous goods, and perishables over at the HIA cargo center: There, 90% of cargo is transit to other destinations, 1% is export and 9% are Doha imports of food and clothing, for example.

Dedicated as well as flexible holding areas
Back to the Animal Center: At 5,260 m², the complex boasts dedicated rooms for certain species such as reptiles, fish, birds (and a separate, dedicated falcon room which sees up to 220 falcons/day pass through in August peak season), horses, cats, and dogs, to name but a few, but also caters for more exotic creatures. Recently a hippo transited the new center and whilst an elephant has yet to travel on Qatar Airways Cargo, there is a 20ft ULD zone ready and waiting for when that day comes. Meanwhile, the 140 dog kennels and 40 cat kennels on offer contained a number of individual pets destined for Australia, the US, or Europe, and the 24 stables had already seen their guests checked out the night before. Some 10,000 horses are transported annually – a figure that continues to grow. We visit a huge Caster Room where up to 47 ULD positions can be handled easily and in tempered comfort on roller beds leading from airside to landside – particularly for cattle and sheep transports. And we observe and discuss the different docks enabling the flexible transport and care of those animals with quick turnarounds (90 minutes are possible, but animal welfare and health comes first, so they are preferably given a minimum transit time of 3 hours to ensure that they are destressed and comfortable.)

24-hour service
The center is open 24/7 and there are always 3-4 vets from the Canadian Veterinary Service on duty per shift to ensure the health and wellbeing of the animals passing through. While the vets walk to check the animals in their designated areas on regular facility tours, there is even a particular holding area with a window facing into the vet office, where certain species can be kept under constant observation.

The Animal Center is located a mere 5-minute (at most) drive away from freighter positions F11 and F12, which are primarily reserved for animal transports to absolutely minimize the ramp time. And there is more that goes on behind the scenes. We are shown a luxury bathroom area for dogs, complete with hair-drying grooming area. And the center has its own launderette to ensure that all animal boxes always have clean blankets.

More to come
The old Animal Center is being decommissioned, but the airport and Qatar Airways Cargo have big expansion plans that will come to fruition in the foreseeable future. With regard to animals, Qatar Airways Cargo is heavily involved in the different animal standards bodies, and was the first airline in the Middle East to become IATA CEIV Live-certified back in 2022. A certification that is coming up for renewal this year, and where the audit will now examine processes and facilities in the new Animal Center. It should pass with full marks. Aside from the long planning time, the move from the old to the new center was carried out in phases, and only completed after around two months of trial shipments and agreements with all the relevant authorities. That said, prior to the tour, Mark Drusch urges his visitors: “If you have any suggestions for improvement, tell us. We are always looking to improve,” he says, promising, “If we can do it, we’ll do it!”

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