Precious cargo weighs in at the ARK at JFK Equine Import-Export Center at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Precious cargo weighs in at the ARK at JFK Equine Import-Export Center at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

With its typical “cargo” item weighing a half a ton or more and calmed by the resonant tenor tones of Pavarotti, The ARK at JFK Equine Import-Export Center – just opened rampside at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport – is taking animal transport to new heights. Indeed, one might say the unique facility makes horse sense.
One-of-a-kind in that it is the only privately owned facility of its size and scope at any airport, according to Elizabeth A. Schuette, managing director of The ARK at JFK, the center provides a full spectrum of creature comforts.

There don’t appear to be any naysayers among prominent horse shipping companies.

Bill Nichols, president of Floral Park, New York-based Alex Nichols Agency, told the American Journal of Transportation, “For someone who has spent a lifetime working with horses and other animals around JFK, The ARK is a giant step forward in making JFK one of the safest, most efficient lodging and transit hubs for all animals in the country.

“My company has been an airfreight forwarder specializing in horses and livestock for over 50 years,” Nichols said, noting that his firm primarily uses The ARK as an export inspection facility, where the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducts mandatory inspections of horses prior to embarkation. “I am happy to support The ARK, as it was designed and built to exceed minimum standards for safety and cleanliness.”

In fact, Schuette doesn’t refer to the horses and other animals handled at the $65 million, 178,000-square-foot facility as cargo, preferring to use the word “guests,” and those guests are clearly pampered.

By being located rampside, The ARK allows animals to safely be taken directly between aircraft and the facility, thereby reducing transport time, thus saving cost and limiting exposure to elements.

Arrangements have been made for what Schuette calls “additional creature features,” such as a lounge where grooms accompanying the equine guests can watch TV, avail themselves of Wi-Fi, shower, eat and simply relax.

The guests are pampered, too, including with the playing of opera music, with Schuette noting that recordings of Luciano Pavarotti are a particular favorite.

“Studies show music calms animals, just like it does people,” she said.

Each of 48 horse stalls has individual climate control and advance filtration and cushioned flooring, and lighting is adjusted to simulate day and night, to help the guests get proper rest, while all hay is high-quality, dust-free Timothy-mixed variety. The ARK boasts around-the-clock veterinarian coverage and security monitoring. Its processes have been developed under guidance of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

“It’s all about the best care for our guests and minimizing the stress for them,” Schuette said. “We believe it’s critical for the welfare of the animals to have these types of facilities.”

Before The ARK, a horse that may have spent 10 hours on an airplane and then another 10 or more hours standing in a stall as it was moved to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services quarantine facility three hours away in Newburgh, New York. Also, additional standing around time might be required in that, unlike The ARK, the USDA facility is not open 24/7.

USDA protocols require a minimum of three days of quarantine for imported horses, and it can take as many as five days to get back test results on drawn blood that has to be sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa. A horse being flown out for export must stay a minimum of two hours, per USDA mandate.

The ARK at JFK Equine Import-Export Center extends to horses services similar to those provided dogs, cats, rabbits, turtles, mice, goats and other creatures by The ARK Pet Oasis, which opened at JFK in January. Also newly added is The ARK Aviary, specializing in handling birds.

Whereas the small animals are typically pets traveling with their owners, referred to as retail customers, the horses may be studs used for breeding or may be competitors in four-star equine events, such as the Olympics, Pan American Games or the Longines Masters of New York indoor show-jumping grand finale, set for next April at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island.

Schuette said she has already been approached about developing similar USDA-approved on-site facilities at other U.S. airports. Currently, USDA operates a government-owned installation at Miami International Airport, while off-site contractors handle such functions at facilities outside the properties of Los Angeles International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

Approved by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which counts JFK among its airports, The ARK was built not by Noah but rather by ARK Development LLC via an affiliate of Racebrook, a New York-based real estate private equity firm and portfolio of companies founded in 2004 by John J. Cuticelli Jr. as a division of multibillion-dollar global growth investor Warburg Pincus LLC.

In early 2015, in announcing plans for The ARK under a 30-year lease agreement with the Port Authority, Cuticelli said, “We developed The ARK concept to address the unmet needs for the import and export of companion, sporting and agricultural animals. The animal terminal will set new international airport standards for comprehensive veterinary, kenneling and quarantine services.”

Pat Foye, the Port Authority’s executive director at that time, said the project, located at JFK’s then-unoccupied Cargo Building 78, “will transform an airport structure that has been vacant for nearly 10 years into a world-class specialty cargo facility, and the agreement guarantees the Port Authority more than $100 million in revenue without any additional capital investment.”