This story courtesy of the Boston Globe...
Dog gnaws 767, leaves mark on airline safety
By Matthew Brelis, Globe Staff, 08/05/99
Puppies chew and dogs love to dig and scratch and claw - any owner will tell you that.
Rarely, however, is their behavior destructive enough to affect the operation of a Boeing 767 airplane. But that's what happened on board United Airlines Flight 174, flying to Boston from San Francisco on July 24.
An Irish wolfhound - the world's tallest dog, which was bred to hunt wolves but is known as the ''gentle giant'' - was in its kennel in the cargo hold of the airplane when it somehow got loose.
''When that happens, the first thing they want to do is get out of the airplane,'' said an aviation source familiar with the incident. So, the dog began to dig and chew through the fiberglass liner of the cargo pit, which resembles the plastic cabin interior. The canine then went through the soft insulation and then came upon wire bundles, which he attacked.
The case of the dog biting a plane did not cause the pilot to declare an emergency, although sources said the damage to wires resulted in the loss of ''a couple of warning lights in the cockpit'' and the pilot could not fully extend the plane's wing flaps on landing. The flaps add lift to the plane as it slows to land, so the airplane, with 159 passengers and a crew of nine on board, landed at a faster speed than normal, although still well within the design specifications of the airplane.
Aviation sources in Boston and Washington said that dogs have damaged airplanes before, but the Federal Aviation Administration said it could find no record of service difficulties on an airplane being caused by a dog.
The condition of airplane wiring has gained the attention of safety investigators and aerospace engineers in the wake of two recent crashes. TWA Flight 800 exploded three years ago, killing everyone on board, and investigators believe vapors in the center fuel tank were ignited - possibly by faulty wiring. And Swissair Flight 111 went down off Nova Scotia a year ago because of an on-board fire, possibly caused by faulty wiring. But it is aging, chafing, and vibrations that are considered prime threats to the integrity of wire. Not dogs.
Each year, some 500,000 pets travel on commercial airplanes and nearly all of them have happy endings. When something goes wrong, the animal usually suffers the consequences, not the airplane. But this situation underscores the potential for serious consequences for the plane and its passengers.
''We are still investigating the circumstances of how an Irish wolfhound escaped into the hold of the aircraft,'' said United spokeswoman Susana Leyva. ''While we are concerned about the incident and were inconvenienced, the crew acted promptly when instruments indicated a possible problem. There was no emergency declared, none was needed, and the plane landed safely.''
The flight landed around midnight. Mechanics worked to repair the damaged wiring, and the aircraft was back in service the next morning, Leyva said.
When baggage handlers opened the cargo door ''there he was, just wagging his tail, happy to see them,'' said the source.
That the dog could get out of a kennel, and try to bite or claw its way out of the cargo hold ''gives you some idea of the sort of panic the animal felt,'' says Nancy Blaney, director of the national legislative office of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The Air Transport Association, the trade association and lobbying group for the nation's major airlines, says that in less than 1 percent of the cases is there something amiss. But that is too high a number for the ASPCA and some politicians. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, a Democrat from New Jersey, introduced legislation in June requiring airlines to make sure all cargo compartments are heated, ventilated, and air-conditioned. The legislation would increase the amount of compensation airlines would pay owners for lost, injured, or killed pets, and require better reporting of pet mishaps while in the custody of airlines.
Currently, the US Department of Agriculture's animal and plant inspection service, is responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, but has no accurate figures on the number of dogs and cats killed, injured or lost each year.
In the past several years, however, it has levied nominal fines against airlines, which usually charge $50 to transport an animal with a ticketed passenger, for mistreatment of animals.
The USDA filed a complaint against TWA on June 8 for violating the Animal Welfare Act for causing the death of Quick, a 61/2-year-old golden retriever, from hypothermia. It fined the airline $4,000 in 1996 for failing to transport animals while ensuring their safety and comfort.
Delta Air Lines was fined $6,500 in 1998 for placing six dogs in the live cargo hold, but not providing adequate ventilation while the flight was delayed for 90 minutes. Three of the animals died.
USAir was fined $25,000 last year for eight separate violations from 1991 through 1995, including crushing a cat in a cargo hold.
American Airlines was fined $25,000 in 1993 for a series of violations in the early 1990s, including transporting six dogs on a flight that resulted in four of them suffocating from lack of oxygen and a ramp worker driving a baggage conveyer over an enclosure that contained a cat, killing the animal.
Without the legislation, the ASPCA recommends leaving pets at home, or finding alternative transportation, said Blaney.
''If travel is absolutely essential, try to make sure the flight is non-stop, from point A to point B and fly during cool times of the day.''