Aeroflot has been at the forefront of many aviation initiatives and most recently has invested heavily in both customer service and new aircraft, having one of the youngest large fleets of commercial aircraft in the world. One of its more unusual innovations, however, is the breeding of a dog specifically for the needs of aviation security.
Today at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport you will see the dogs walking around the airport terminal with one of its specially-trained handlers. The dogs are distinctive, but not large, and are friendly-looking. In fact, it’s not unusual to see smiles on the faces of passengers as the dogs sniff around their bags. This friendliness is part of the reason that the dogs have been bred, and the story of how they come to be in the airports of Russia is an interesting one.
The original idea behind the dogs dates back to the USSR and their use by the security services to search for explosives. When aviation security specialists considered using them, there were additional considerations. To begin with, smaller dogs were better for inspecting aircraft, and in addition, are less threatening to passengers in the terminal, who perhaps might not be used to dogs or are even scared of them. The dogs also wear muzzles to ensure they do not alarm children.
The new breed of dogs was developed for Aeroflot’s security by Klim Sulimov, originally a renowned Russian biologist, and, for a time, the dogs were called Sulimov dogs. Today they are called Shalaikas, and there are over 50 of them, some 20 percent of whom are on active duty, while the others are being trained from six months old ready for entering active service at around 18 months old. (When the dogs retire, they make excellent pets.)
The dogs work land side in the passenger terminal, airside in departures and in the cargo warehouses, with some dogs taking the night shift and some the day shift (along with their handlers). Security experts are very aware that to prevent terrorism, as well as fixed check points such as the traditional airport security scanning machines, it is essential that threats are detected before even they enter the airport, and of course the dogs are supremely able to do this, even patrolling the car parks of the airport.
If you ask the handlers how often they have found traces of explosives, the surprising answer is every day! This is because the handlers plant tiny harmless traces in special containers around the airport for the dogs to detect and are rewarded when they do so. What’s amazing is that the dogs’ noses are so sensitive that they can smell explosives even when they have been tightly wrapped up or are in airtight sealed containers. It is perhaps another aspect of the deterrence value that they are so good at their jobs. Publicising the efforts of the dogs also acts as a deterrent. They can also smell the explosive scent on the clothes of those who enjoy hunting.
It is possible to train the dogs to detect other scents, though the dogs have to be trained to detect all of the five basic explosives, including when they are mixed together.
When the dogs find a sample that may have explosives on, these are then transported to a laboratory where they are checked using Remote Air Sample Analysis, which also helps assess how accurate and efficient the dogs are. Building on the successes of its dog service, Aeroflot is now introducing olfactory monitoring – a hardware and software system that includes special gear for dogs to help identify the nature of substances they detect and transmit the information to an operator’s computer.
The Shalaika today is primarily an initial crossbreed of two Lapponian Herders and two Turkmen golden jackals. Russia famously enjoys – or suffers – from extremes of temperatures, and the jackal is good for hot weather, the laika for cold. In 2019, Aeroflot will present the Shalaikas and the olfactory monitoring system at the Eurasia 2019 international dog show.
Aeroflot’s dog service is a regular award-winner. In December 2018, the airline became the first transportation company to win the Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering category at the Innovation Time Awards for its international prize-winning “Aeroflot. Sulimov Dogs” project. The airline’s “Sulimov Dogs” Facebook project also took the awards for Travel and Tourism, Digital Media Relations and Community Engagement at the IPRA Golden World Awards.
These unique dogs are today one of the best examples of man’s best friend once again proving their worth.