By Ian McMurtry
The Emergence of Moving ‘Man’s Best Friend’
When it comes to the transport of animals, cargo airlines have always been more than willing to provide to get animals from their starting point to their final destination. These moves can range from the Tex Sutton Equine Air Transport Boeing 727 for racehorse movements to one-off Panda flights by FedEx to return the species to their native lands in China. However, the demand for household animal transport has gained traction in the current marketplace, and two different airlines with different purposes have plans to get ‘man’s best friend’ across the country.
The first airline to make a move as a result of the pandemic was online pet provider PuppySpot. The dog service provides potential buyers and breeders a chance to communicate and access a client base across the country. PuppySpot is a USDA licensed distributor and oversees who they interact with, only selecting breeders that hold the same USDA standard they do and removing any deceptive breeders that might attempt to use puppy mills or scam tactics. The company runs health checks on dogs before delivery.
However, the pandemic left PuppySpot in a difficult situation in 2020, the company had previously relied on other airlines for transport of animals to their new homes. The drop of passenger traffic, the lack of cargo room and an increase in demand as people looking for a friend meant that PuppySpot needed a fix for their logistics problems.
PuppySpot would ultimately decide to do the work in-house via private aviation, selecting Castle Aviation of North Akron, Ohio and a few other private jet companies to do ‘dog-friendly travel to counter the lack of commercial aviation in 2020.
PuppySpot Chief Administrative Officer, Josh Kreinberg, noted, “Covid came in and handed us all kinds of complications because routes and flight schedules evaporated for the airlines.”
Kreinberg also comments that ground transportation was also considered but was too difficult because of different cross-border barriers that existed back in 2020.
Eventually, the deal would expand to more than just private aviation in 2021, when Castle Aviation took hold of a Saab 340 targeted specifically to be used by PuppySpot. The aircraft is USDA compliant for animal transport and comes with strapped-down dog cages for both small and large animals. The goal is that the aircraft being to make multiple stops and drop off dogs as close as possible to each family member.
These operations started in early 2021 and a second aircraft would be brought on board to add more capacity for the logistics side of the company in the summer.
The service ranges from $400 to $1400, depending on the depth of service and the location. Buyers can either pick up their new friend at the airport upon arrival or have a door delivery done by a chaperone that will specifically pay attention to their dog throughout the journey.
Currently, there are two Saab 340s that wear the PuppySpot colors. N346CJ, an ex-Colgan Air airframe that is currently 28 years old and was taken up by Castle Aviation in pet cargo hold configuration in February 2021 for PuppySpot. The other is a 31-year-old model previously used by Penair, the aircraft with registration N685PA was taken up by Castle in March 2021 and transitioned to PuppySpot four months later. Castle Aviation has four other Saab 340s that operate in cargo configuration from its Akron-Canton Regional Airport base.
The second and reemerging contender that serves a different purpose but operates similarly is Pet Airways. The Delray Beach, Florida-based airline had previous experience operating between 2009 and 2011 using Suburban Air Freight’s propeller freight aircraft. SubAir even went to the lengths of putting Pet Airways stickers on the side of one of its Beech 1900 aircraft to promote the service.
However, Pet’s initial strategy never really launched as intended. A mix of low demand the financial recession resulted in the pet inspired airline failing to turn a profit towards the back half of its operations and ultimately closed up shop after a difficult 2011.
Now, a revitalized Pet is looking to the skies once again. Previous owners Dan Wiesel and Alysa Binder are back in charge and plan to launch operations as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic eases restrictions. The airline had originally noted a summer 2021 launch window but has since let it slip to mid-2022.
Pet Airways falls under the notion that the existing passenger airlines fail to provide a positive travel experience to airlines operating dogs as cargo. They point out to cargo holds will leave animals exposed to temperature extremes and darkness while leaving the animal exposed to injuries. Pet believes that animals are not luggage and should be given a better flying experience.
The airline plans to revive its old business model of airport-to-airport luxuriousness for animals. Pet will check animals in and give them a ‘lounge’ to wait in till their flight departs. Onboard, these self-proclaimed ‘passengers’ are given their own carrier and checked on every 15 minutes into the flight to ensure their travel experience is going well. 2009 airfare for the airline was set to begin at $149 with service between 20 cities across the United States. There is no additional information about which cargo airline will be helping Pet 2.0, but those plans are expected to be revealed as the airline finally irons out a schedule and plans a schedule.