President Clinton on April 5 signed a comprehensive aviation bill carrying a provision requiring airlines to begin reporting to the Department of Transportation any incidents and complaints of animals being lost, injured, or killed during transport.
In addition to informing consumers about such occurrences, the DOT must notify the USDA, while working with air carriers to improve employee training on air transport of animals, and notifying passengers of the conditions under which their animals are shipped.
According to the Air Transport Association, more than 500,000 animals are transported each year. One percent encounter problems ranging from transport in unapproved kennels and missed flights to loss or death.
The provisions in The Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (HR 1000) largely reflect suggestions made by the AVMA to Sen John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, while Congress was considering the bill.
In June 1999, Sen Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) had introduced the Safe Air Travel for Animals Act (S 1193), and Rep Robert Mendez (D-NJ) introduced the companion bill (HR 2776) in the House. The proposals called for the creation of a complex, federally regulated system mandating structural changes to the cargo compartments of commercial carriers and the imposition of larger civil penalties on negligent airlines.
Airline representatives had warned, however, that additional regulations could drive some carriers away from transporting animals, leading to a backlog and price hikes.
Senator Lautenberg's bill was amended to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act (S 82). The text of S 82 was later inserted into HR 1000, which passed the Senate before going to conference committee.
Although acknowledging that the legislation sought to assuage public concern for pet safety during air travel, the AVMA had recommended gathering more data to determine whether a stronger legislative remedy were warranted (see JAVMA, Jan 15, 2000, page 153).
"The AVMA's letter proposed a reasonable compromise that the members of the congressional conference committee appreciated," said Dr. Niall Finnegan, director of the AVMA Government Relations Division. "They welcomed the AVMA's proposal."
Calling the new law a "good first step," Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president for the Humane Society of the United States, said more must be done to improve airline transportation conditions in the future.
It is essential, Pacelle said, that cargo holds be made safer so that animals can be transported with the same guarantees of safety and security enjoyed by their owners and other passengers.