A male panda named Bei Bei has just made a 16-hour flight on a FedEx Boeing 777-200, jetting from Washington’s Dulles Airport to Chengdu, China. The flight departed around lunchtime on Tuesday, November 19, 2019. After a spell in quarantine, Bei Bei will head off to his new home at the China Conservation and Research Centre.
FedEx has been transporting pandas since 2000. This was its eighth successful shipment. FedEx donated its services. There’s some symmetry to this flight as well. Back in 2000, FedEx brought Bei Bei’s parents (Mei Xiang and Tian Tian) to the USA from China. Now Bei Bei is heading home using the same carrier.
FedEx is committed to helping conserve and transport vulnerable animals
Pandas are officially listed as a “vulnerable” animal with just 1,800 left in the wild. There is a successful breeding program underway at Washington’s National Zoo. But the pandas are returned to China when they are four years old to enter the breeding program there.
The aviation industry around the world is getting more involved in anti-trafficking and conservation efforts. In the last few months, Simple Flying has reported on how both Emirates and Qatar were taking a stand against wildlife smuggling.
On the flip side, many airlines actively support efforts to conserve and prop up vulnerable and endangered species. FedEx supports the movement of rescued and endangered animals. It also puts its money where its mouth is, donating aircraft and time to the cause under their “Delivering for Good” program.
In a statement, FedEx’s Asia Pacific President, Karen Reddington said;
“We are honoured to again be part of a truly special mission. The successful transportation of Bei Bei underscores the company’s commitment to safely and securely transporting even the world’s most precious cargo.”
Getting Bei Bei to China
Bei Bei traveled in a custom-built crate made of steel and plexiglass that weighs 800 pounds. He had been acclimatized to the crate in the month before traveling, been walked through it every day and once used to it, spending some time enclosed in it.
The 8,500-mile journey is a big effort for the Boeing 777-200 that FedEx operates. The plane flew light, with only the crew, Bei Bei, a couple of minders, and some snacks on board. As anyone flying long-haul will attest, you do need a few snacks. Bei Bei was catered for with 66 pounds of bamboo, two pounds of fruit, two pounds of cooked sweet potato, two bags of leafeater biscuits and water. FedEx did not say what the humans on board were scoring foodwise. Possibly dry cheese sandwiches.
While FedEx is in the cargo business and handling unusual cargo is par for the course, pandas are more complicated than a bag of satchels. But FedEx has a specialized charter department that plans flights such as this one.
Having successfully transported pandas before, FedEx has a pool of human and organizational experience to draw upon. FedEx says it had more than 100 people planning this flight.
You can’t fault the flight or the cause or FedEx’s involvement in preserving the pandas. Here’s hoping Bei Bei likes his new home and goes on to make many baby pandas.