A Challenging Mission to Transport 47 Cats and Dogs from Iraq
In July 2020, Global Air Charters had the opportunity to conduct a unique rescue flight. Working with Monarch Air Group and SPCA International (SPCAI), GAC enthusiastically agreed to help reunite 47 dogs and cats rescued from Iraq with the U.S. military service members who befriended and adopted them while deployed overseas.
While dealing with war’s realities and being far from home, U.S. service members receive comfort and companionship from these beloved pets. At the end of their deployment, unfortunately, soldiers are usually forced to leave their adopted animals behind.
Operation Baghdad Pups, organized by SPCAI, was a mission unlike any other. While the pandemic meant flights were grounded worldwide, severely restricting international travel, Global Air Charters was called in to help transport the animals from Erbil, Iraq, to their owners at JFK International Airport in New York City.
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 was 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 SPCAI and Monarch Air Group to cut this time down to a few weeks of hard work and coordination.
Behind the Scenes
“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. “One of my biggest fears was that we would not be able to fit all the animals onto the aircraft safely,” Michael added. “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 arriving flight was originally scheduled to take off in Turkey but instead began in Portugal due to unforeseen setbacks. Unfortunately, with the repositioning of the incoming flight (and the loading process taking longer than expected) the original GAC flight crew could not complete the entire flight according to 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 it was difficult, 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,” Michael said. “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. Having connections to service members past and present, including both of my parents, made this a small gesture to support and thanks to 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.