Professional snoopers

Lufthansa Cargo has been allowed to use dogs to screen air freight for some weeks now. We accompanied Tommy, a German shepherd, on an assignment

Dogs at the Lufthansa Cargo Center? Shouldn’t they be in the Animal Lounge, a few metres further along? Tommy, a German shepherd, is at the LCC, running excitedly around some air freight boxes that are ready for dispatch. Suddenly he lies down. Explosives alert! Thankfully, this is just an exercise. Peter Russ, Task Manager and Head of Training at the canine unit of airport operator Fraport, explains: “There’s more to this than the dog simply thinking to itself: ‘Here’s where I raise my paw!’”

There’s quite a saga behind why dogs are allowed at all to check for explosives in Lufthansa Cargo freight now. The “Dynamite Dogs”, as they are already playfully known in the industry, have only been cleared for use in security checks since 28 April 2013. The cooperation has been fantastic to date: “We’re very satisfied with their deployment”, confirms Burkhardt Berndt, Senior Manager Aviation Security at Lufthansa Cargo. “Fraport was the right partner to choose. For one, because we already had a long, trusted cooperation with them, but also because our Fraport colleagues were prepared to move fast to implement the lengthy approval procedure.” Russ adds: “Security is the number one priority in this work. With Lufthansa Cargo, we have found a partner that sees this exactly as we do. It’s not just the quantities passing through that count, but freight security more importantly.”

Tommy the dog sees this quite differently. The whole thing is a game for him, into which he puts his heart and soul. Training began with tests in the hall – can the dogs even cope with the hustle and bustle of the LCC? If the answer is “yes”, there was and is training on dummy freight. Dog trainer Larry Hansen conceals something behind his back and Tommy sniffs it. He then looks for the same smell in the training boxes that have been set up. In the end, he lies down exactly at the spot where explosives have previously been placed. A resounding success – and Tommy is delighted with his reward toy. It’s clear to Peter Russ and Larry Hansen, however, that using dogs to screen air freight is a good security solution. Burkhardt Berndt already feels relieved: “The amount of cargo we have to open manually has been considerably reduced. This is good because opening cargo manually often leads to delays. The screening process is usually quicker with a dog.”

There is even on-board training. Larry Hansen explains: “It’s almost impossible to train on a freighter as the machines come in, are unloaded and loaded, and then leave again immediately. Our Lufthansa Cargo colleagues let us know when there was actually a bit of time so that we could take advantage of a valuable 30 minutes. It’s incredibly important to have these opportunities.” Besides the training, Lufthansa Cargo and Fraport also had to negotiate a lot of bureaucratic hurdles before receiving final approval from the Federal Aviation Office (LBA). “It was one thing getting the OK for the dogs themselves from the LBA. But we also had to get approval as an airline to use the dogs”, explains Berndt, adding: “Currently, we’re the only airline in Germany with permission to use dogs for freight checks.”

However, this shouldn’t be misinterpreted. As Russ explains, dogs are “not the Holy Grail”. “They’re an additional screening option. We have x-ray machines. We have manual and visual checks. We have technical equipment that detects traces of explosives. We have the dogs and much more. The cargo screening has to be as individual as the cargo itself. Several screening options are often used one after another.” But one thing shouldn’t be overlooked – the dream team of Tommy and Hansen are committed to ensuring that our cargo is always safely loaded!