Global Air Charters Rescue Mission to Help 47 Cats and Dogs from Iraq Reunite with their Military Service Owners
In July 2020, Global Air Charters was approached with the opportunity to conduct a unique rescue flight out of Iraq. Working with Monarch Air Group and SPCA International (SPCAI), GAC enthusiastically agreed to help. Global Air Charters rescue mission helped reunite 47 dogs and cats rescued from Iraq with the U.S. Military Service members who adopted them. These servicemen and women befriended dogs and cats while deployed overseas. Operation Baghdad Pups, organized by SPCAI, is a mission unlike any other. The current pandemic situation is grounding flights worldwide, severely restricting international travel. Global Air Charters was called in to help transport the animals from Erbil, Iraq, and reunite them with their owners at JFK International Airport in New York City.
SPCAI provides our brave U.S. military members the opportunity to adopt local dogs and cats they befriend abroad. While dealing with war’s realities and being far from home, the military service members receive comfort and companionship from their beloved pets abroad. At the end of their deployment, unfortunately, soldiers are forced to leave their adopted animals behind. SPCA International stepped in to rescue these animals overseas and reunite them safely with their service members in America.
Global Air Charters Rescue Mission
Global Air Charters has flown many humanitarian missions, including hurricane relief, pandemic relief, movement of medical supplies, and more. However, this is the first time we have exclusively flown animals, and it was no easy task. The current political climate and 18 years of military operations prohibit U.S. aircraft from operating in or flying over Iraq. Obtaining the proper approvals to enter Iraq from the Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) typically takes four months. GAC was able to work with the SPCAI and Monarch Air Group to cut this time down significantly.
Behind the Scenes
After a few long weeks of work and energy, the United States Government granted GAC the approval needed to enter Iraq. “It seemed that for this mission every step of the way we ran into problems, roadblocks, or setbacks, but with the will and resolve of all the people involved we persevered,” said Michael Vanacore-Netz, Chief Pilot for GAC. On August 12th, 2020, GAC aircraft N129NS callsign Global Jet 1209 entered Iraq with four crew members: three pilots and one cabin crew member. Michael added, “One of my biggest fears was that we would not be able to fit all the animals onto the aircraft safely. If that were to occur, we would have to come back and perform a second mission.”
The onboarding was a laborious process that lasted hours longer than expected. Because of the size of the cabin door, almost every dog required removal from its crate. With the dogs waiting on a leash, teams disassembled the crates outside the airplane then reassembled them on the aircraft before reloading the dogs. The repetitive process took over six hours on a 110-degree tarmac. The heat and humidity did not deter the crew, who diligently cared for the animals to ensure their health in the conditions. One crew member was constantly giving the animals water. Another two were disassembling, loading, and reassembling crates. The last crew member was monitoring the aircraft and working with dispatch to update departure times and clearances.
The Flight Home
The flight day, originally scheduled to start in Turkey, began in Portugal due to unforeseen setbacks. Unfortunately, with the repositioning flight coming in from Portugal rather than Turkey and the loading process taking longer than expected, the original GAC flight crew could not complete the entire flight according to current legal requirements. To remain legal and safe, GAC turned over the last leg and responsibility of all 47 animals to another team.
Both flight crews met in Shannon, Ireland, turning over the flight for its second leg of the journey. The GAC crew watched as Global Jet 1209 took off to cross the Atlantic headed for JFK International Airport. The plane landed safely at 2 am ET on August 13th. Upon arrival, the SPCAI New York team greeted the rescued dogs and cats following their long journey.
A Heartwarming Reunion
Although a difficult mission, all GAC personnel involved were thankful to be part of this heartwarming mission. “I woke up the next morning to text messages, photos, videos, and emails about our mission, the success, and many heartfelt messages of thanks,” said Michael Vanacore-Netz, “I feel truly blessed and honored to have conducted a mission such as this. It was a great way for GAC to give back something and do some positive with our aircraft. I have friends and family in the service or who are veterans, including both of my parents, and this was a small gesture to support and thank them. I truly hope all the crew members involved remember this flight because of how special it was. I know I will.”
This mission would not have been possible if not for the dedicated and passionate Global Air Charters team. GAC prides itself on displaying professionalism and poise above all else. At Global Air Charters, we strive to place the health and safety of our passengers (including animals) and crew first. Global Air Charters team would like to thank the SPCAI and Monarch Air Group for their help in reuniting U.S. Military members with their beloved companions.