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Friday, 13 December, 2002, 12:37 GMT
Russian airline's top dogs fight terror
Sniffer dog
The hounds target particular routes

At a kennels near Moscow airport, dozens of dogs leap around their cages.

With their fluffy coats and tails, they are a cuddly collection.

But make no mistake. These hounds have a serious job to do. Their mission is to counter terrorism.

They are a unique breed - a cross between a Siberian husky and a jackal.

Sniffer dog at work
The dogs "can sniff out certain explosives which machines can't"

They have been developed by the Russian airline Aeroflot at its new breeding centre.

There cannot be too many airlines in the world which dabble in dog breeding.

But Aeroflot claims its managed to produce the world's greatest sniffer dog.

"The best thing about these dogs is their sense of smell," Klim Sulimov told me. Klim is Aeroflot's chief dog breeder.

"They can sniff out certain explosives which ordinary machines can't trace. And they're much cheaper!"

Sulimov loves his hounds. He has spent years perfecting the breed.

"My dogs combine the qualities of Arctic reindeer herding dogs, which can work in temperatures as low as -70C, and jackals which enjoy the heat up to +40C. They're perfect for our country."

Failing technology

To prove they have the top dogs, Aeroflot puts on a little demonstration.

My dogs combine the qualities of Arctic reindeer herding dogs, which can work in temperatures as low as -70C, and jackals which enjoy the heat up to +40C

Klim Sulimov
Aeroflot chief dog breeder

A black briefcase, stuffed with guns and grenades, is hidden in a row of luggage.

Will the dogs be able to find it?

Enter Mirka the dog. Without any trouble he sniffs out the danger and puts his nose on the briefcase.

He is rewarded with an Aeroflot biscuit.

The case is taken away for further examination in the Aeroflot X-ray machine.

But there is a slight problem. The dogs may be up to the task - but the X-ray machine will not work.

Sniffer dog
The hounds hone their noses in training

It is all rather embarrassing for the crowd of security officials huddled round the device.

They are frantically fiddling with wires and pulling our plugs.

Aeroflot says breeding super sniffer dogs has become a necessity.

"The rise of terrorism made all airlines look more tightly at security issues," the airline's deputy chief, Lev Koshlyakov, told the BBC.

"Dogs is one programme we undertook in this area. It's part of our service. We want our passengers to be comfortable, safe and the airline protected from any interference.

Outside interest

Down the road at Moscow airport, two dog detectives sniff round Aeroflot passengers and their luggage.

There are not enough hounds yet to check out all flights. So certain routes are targeted.

Aeroflot believes the dogs will eventually pay their way and is even planning to market them worldwide

Extra security is always welcome. But should it be the airline which foots the bill?

"We think that aviation security is something that governments should work on, since its mostly protecting their citizens," says Dmitry Shamraev, from the Moscow office of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Aeroflot, however, believes the dogs will eventually pay their way and is even planning to market them worldwide.

"There is a great interest from other airlines from this new breed," says Lev Koshlyakov.

"And we would not exclude that we will be making money because a well-trained dog of such quality will cost a lot on the market."

Back at the Aeroflot breeding centre, the hounds are busy honing their noses in training.

It may be unusual for an airline to breed its own sniffer dogs, but with Russia fearing attacks from Chechen militants and al-Qaeda, anything which helps passengers feel safer in the air must be worth the expense.

See also:

09 May 02 | Science/Nature
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