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Flying Giant Pandas Over 8,000 Miles
Three pandas got a private Boeing 777 for their journey from Washington, D.C. to China.
Transporting giant pandas is no simple feat. FedEx transports over 10 million items each day, but a special delivery came on Wednesday as the Memphis, Tenn.-based company carried three beloved panda bears from Washington, D.C. to Chengdu, China.
Embarking on a 19-hour journey, the pandas’ departure puts an end to a 50-year-long partnership between the U.S. and China. According to CNN, China even admits that it uses the loveable bears as part of a diplomacy strategy. The Chinese government owns the pandas and their offspring, which the Smithsonian’s National Zoo has paid roughly $500,000 per year to maintain.
Transporting Fuzzy Diplomats
FedEx shared a bit more insight into the logistics of transporting the pandas. 25-year-old Mei Xiang, 26-year-old Tian Tian, and their three-year-old cub, Xiao Qi Ji, were loaded onto their own private 777-200 Freighter on Wednesday at Washington’s Dulles International Airport.
A FedEx spokesperson confirmed to AirlineGeeks that – aside from staff, food, water, and other supplies – the pandas were the only cargo on the flight. A captain, relief captain, first officer, loadmaster, and animal care experts were among the transport team.
Registered as N886FD, the 777 aircraft was also fitted with a panda-themed decal. Following a brief stop in Anchorage, the three pandas arrived in Chengdu on Thursday.
“I remember fondly when we brought Mei Xiang and Tian Tian over decades ago, and we are proud to once again be entrusted with transporting these beloved animals through our global network,” said Richard Smith, president and chief executive officer, Airline and International at FedEx in a press release.
The pandas were placed in custom containers, which they were acclimated to a few days before the transport. Bamboo, toys, and treats were also onboard to create a ‘first class’ experience.
“These bears are special. Certainly don’t want anything happening to them on my watch,” FedEx’s 777 chief pilot Ron Zampini told WTOP. “Our No. 1 objective is to get these lovable bears to Chengdu safe.”
A Long History of Panda Logistics
While it isn’t clear what the future holds for so-called ‘panda diplomacy’ in the U.S., FedEx has spent decades airlifting giant pandas across the world. Starting with Mei Xiang and Tian Tian in 2000, the cargo operator has transported 15 different pandas on 10 separate flights.
These high-profile shipments have always been donated by FedEx, the company says. In addition to U.S.-China transport, FedEx has also carried giant pandas to Canada, France, and Scotland over the years.
“It’s the highlight of my career, certainly with FedEx,” Zampini also told WTOP.
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