Miami Becomes First US Airport To Test COVID-19 Detector Dogs

Miami International Airport (MIA) has taken a ground-breaking step in its efforts to reduce the risk of coronavirus on its premises. Specifically, it has become the first US airport to deploy sniffer dogs to detect whether or not a given passenger or airport working might have COVID-19. The airport presently has two of these clever canines on a 30-day trial.

MIA concourse
Miami is Florida’s second-busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic. Photo: Miami International Airport

An initial 30-day trial

Miami International Airport announced earlier this week that it had begun a 30-day pilot program involving COVID-19 detector dogs. Florida International University’s (FIU) Global Forensic and Justice Center specially trained these canines, which the airport will deploy at one of its employee security checkpoints. Two dogs will take part in this trial.

Interestingly, the sniffing specialists are from two different dog species. Indeed, Cobra is a Belgian Malinois, while One Betta is a Dutch Shepherd. The training carried out by FIU found that the dogs could detect COVID-19 with a 96-99% accuracy rate. Dr Kenneth Furton, Provost and Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at FIU, stated that:

Being able to apply decades of research in this way, to provide an additional layer of protection to airport employees at Miami International Airport, it’s humbling. These dogs are another valuable tool we can leverage to help us live with this ongoing pandemic.”

Miami COVID Dog
One of the dogs hard at work as part of the trial program. Photo: Miami International Airport

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

How does it work?

So how exactly are these diligent animals able to detect the presence of COVID-19 in a passenger or airport employee? As it happens, the canine sniffers are able to pick it up in a given person’s breath or sweat. The airport explains that this is because metabolic changes brought about by the virus produce volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

The body excretes these in your breath or sweat, resulting in a scent that is detectable to these trained animals. Should a dog indicate that it has detected this scent, the person in question will be directed to take a COVID-19 test. Ralph Cutié, MIA’s Interim Director, states:

The COVID-19 detector dog pilot program is the latest effort by MIA to serve as a testbed for new innovations in safety and security. We are proud to do our part in the fight against COVID-19, and we hope to see this pilot program potentially benefit the rest of Miami-Dade County and airports across the country.”

Miami COVID Dog Getty
The dogs can detect COVID-19 with a 96-99% accuracy rate. Photo: Getty Images

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

Detector dogs at other airports

While Miami is the first US airport to deploy COVID-19 detector dogs, other facilities elsewhere in the world have already deployed such a strategy. Indeed, Simple Flying reported in August 2020 that coronavirus sniffer dogs were hard at work in Dubai (DXB).

A month later, Finland’s Helsinki-Vantaa Airport (HEL) also implemented a similar system as part of its attempts to minimize the risk of coronavirus on its premises. More recently, May 2021 also saw COVID-19 sniffer dogs begin work in Islamabad (ISB), Pakistan.

What do you make of Miami’s use of COVID-19 detector dogs? Have you ever seen such animals on your travels elsewhere? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.