Horse flights should return

By Michael Guerin

Industry experts are confident horse flights to Australia should be able to return in the next month.

 But New Zealand Bloodstock airfreight manager Greg Northcott says it could take longer for anything like normal equine flight services to return.

 NZB Airfreight and IRT are New Zealand’s two major flyers of horses but both have been unable to offer those services since mid March when it was announced New Zealand was going into Covid-19 alert level four.

 One of the last horses to be flown out of the country was Etah James, who was flown to Sydney by NZB airfreight and at her first start there won the Sydney Cup.

 Since then horses have been unable to fly even though the export of livestock is deemed an essential service.

 “The problem isn’t the horses flying it is our professional grooms who have to go with them,” explains Northcott.

“We use three carriers to fly horses to Australia and depending on the flight the grooms might be in normal seating, like in the upstairs compartment in a 747-400 or the could be sitting right up the front quite close to the pilots in a 767.

“So the companies we fly with are reluctant to expose their pilots to the grooms, or anybody else, at a time like this and we have to respect that.“So even if we can arrange for grooms to fly with the horses and not have to actually leave the plane in Australia, or to take it a step further we were willing to fly them there and get them to self-isolate for 14 days before they come back, we still need approval from the companies we fly with.

“But we are working on ways to do that as safely as possible for everybody and I think we are getting closer.

“So we will keep working with the authorities and the carriers and, in my opinion, I think we can be back flying horses in May.” But Northcott says that may not be the full schedule of flights NZB airfreight is used to supplying.

 “I think we might get flights to one city going before the other and that could even be a charter flight rather than our regular scheduled flights.

 “But I think we should have access to Australia inside a month.”

That will be a relief to a variety of industry participants who need horses not only flown to Australia but vice versa.

There are yearlings sold at sales in recent months in both countries who need to join new stables in the other, broodmares heading both ways as well as racehorses who have been sold and are ready for export.

 And of course some precious cargo including horses who competed at The Championships in Sydney, with group one winners like Sherwood Forest and The Bostonian to come home when the first flight is available.

  Most of the harness horses who competed over the Australian summer returned before the lockdown, with the major exception of Victoria Oaks winner Dr Susan.

 “So if people have horses they need to get to Australia I’d suggest they get in touch with us and we can keep them up to date on the options as they unfold.”

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