New international rules covering the transport of animals on aircraft have been developed by the organisation that represents most airlines.

The International Air Transport Association says a new standardised global certification programme will improve the safety and welfare of animals travelling by air.

"Last year millions of animals travelled safely and securely by air. Animal owners and shippers rely heavily on airlines to carry their precious cargo. As an industry, we have a duty of care to ensure that standards and best practices are in place around the world to protect the welfare of these animals," said Nick Careen, the association's senior vice-president of airport, passenger, cargo and security.

The risks were highlighted last month when a dog died on United Airlines flight after its owner was instructed to put the animal in an overhead bin.

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The airline said it transported 138,178 animals last year and 18 died, the highest of any airline, according to the Department of Transportation.

American and Delta each reported that two animals died on their planes last year.

IATA said the Center of Excellence for Independent Validators for Live Animals Logistics (CEIV Live Animals) would provide participant stakeholders across the air cargo supply chain with the assurance that certified companies were operating to the highest standards in the transport of live animals.

"For those shipping live animals the CEIV Live Animals programme will provide a reliable quality benchmark," said Careen.

The centre had developed rules for carrying pharmaceuticals and the new programme was an extension of that.

Handling and transporting live animals is challenging. Each type of animal has its specific requirements—not limited to the physical.

"It is critical to take into consideration the emotional response of the animals when placed in a special-purpose, if unfamiliar, environment by trained professionals," said Careen.

The programme was developed after a trial involving the City of London's Heathrow Animal Reception Centre (HARC) and Air Canada Cargo.

Last year the centre handled 16,000 dogs and cats, 400 horses, 200,000 reptiles, 2000 birds and 28 million fish.

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Air Canada cargo vice-president Tim Strauss said ensuring animals travelled in safe and humane conditions required co-ordination across the supply chain.

"Whether it is a family relocating with their pet, a flock of sheep relocating overseas or zoo animals travelling to support conservation efforts, transporting animals by air is a complex and highly planned operation."