Up to 1,600 dairy calves will be flown to the continent in the coming weeks in a novel move aimed at testing the viability of air transport.

The dairy calves will be flown from the southwest, with both Shannon Airport and Kerry Airport in Farranfore being considered.

It is understood that a charter plane that normally transports horses will be used for the flights, which are scheduled to start next week.

The number of calves transported on each flight will depend on the size of the plane chartered.

“A smaller plane can take 270 to 280 calves, while 800 to 850 could be transported on a larger plane,” one industry insider said.

It is believed that financial support in excess of €45,000 has been sought from the industry body Dairy Research Ireland to assess the logistics and welfare implications of the initiative.

The end destination of the calf-export flights has not been confirmed, but it is thought to be Holland.

The advantage of flying calves lies in the significantly shorter travel time compared with shipping.