ACH – Part 1: ULD Bible Could Enlighten the Cargo Industry

ULD CARE Vice President Bob Rogers is not known in the industry as someone that shies away from voicing inconvenient truths. So he did in his keynote speech at the 30th ULD CARE Annual Conference held jointly with the 9th Air Cargo Handling Conference in Budapest’s Corinthia Hotel from 19-21 September. As way out of the misery, he presented a much-noticed new “Code of Conduct” that could become a game changer for the ground handling of air freight.

ULD CARE VP Bob Rogers presenting a “Code of Conduct” for ULD handling at BUD-held ACH
ULD CARE VP Bob Rogers presenting a “Code of Conduct” for ULD handling at BUD-held ACH

Have processes in air freight handling and equipment care undergone fundamental changes since the seventies of last century? Are they up to date, have they been adapted to the requirements of a changed environment where technique dominates the everyday business more and more, replacing traditional labor procedures?
Not really, claimed Bob, the doyen of the handling business, in his inspiring keynote address to the 300-plus Budapest delegates. As proof of this thesis, he compared everyday cargo procedures with the way the farming business is run. Here old fashion, there modernity.

Losing out to integrators
While in air freight manual labor still is the dominant factor, seen by the physical pushing of containers or the loading of pallets on board an aircraft by ground handling staff, in the rural sector it’s machines that do just about every job, improving productivity enormously, minimizing errors.
As consequence of the cargo industry’s widespread unwillingness to implement reforms and adopt to a constantly changing business environment, cargo is lacking competitiveness. “We are losing out to smarter modes of transportation,” Mr Rogers exclaimed, demonstrated by the triumphal success of the integrators.


High damage rate
Another dismal picture he painted as result of the missing modernization is the continuous safety risk the loading equipment is exposed to at airports and within freight terminals, shown by disturbing data visualizing a high damage rate. In a report issued by Washington’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the U.S. watchdogs confirm Bob’s testimony, criticizing that cargo manuals “lack clear procedures for ULD inspection, equipment repair, and adequate use of cargo containers, restraining belts, straps or verification to an approved source or document.”

Summarized Bob: “A rapidly emerging picture that ground handling and cargo operations are characterized by high labor turnover which coupled with zero significant improvements in technology leaves this safety critical process in a vulnerable position.”
However, is cargo and baggage handling really so challenging? Basically, it’s a rather simple task, but performed in a challenging environment, where time pressure, commercial pressure and weather conditions have an enormous influence.

ULD code of conduct
Outlining the many deficits the ULD business and ground handling procedures are facing in everyday ops is only one side of the coin. The more intriguing question is how to overcome the shortcomings, giving not only the BUD attendees solution on hands but also the entire industry. Bobs recommendation to this is kind of a “ULD Bible”, a new code of conduct, consisting of three pillars:
ULD Explained, ULD Instruct, ULD Connect.
Referring to these focal points, he said that most urgently needed is explaining the usage and operation of unit load devices in rather simple terms to the ground handling staff concerned. Next, the instructions could be laid into people’s hands as appropriate basis for training courses, instructions and coaching. By doing so, the motivation of the ground handling personnel will be improved, upgrading safety and product quality. Also, refreshing ULD messaging should become standard, involving all parties involved, be it handlers, airlines, forwarder or airports. The chapter “ULD Connect” standing in Bob’s Bible deals predominantly with modern forms of equipment tracking via cell phone applications.


Technically smarter ULDs are needed
Touching the e-commerce hype, he strongly recommended technical adaptions to the demands like collapsible containers to save space and better the utilization of valuable aircraft space. “E-commerce is driving the demand for structural containers over pallets,” he stated.
How valuable for shippers, forwarders, ground handlers and airlines ULDs have become meanwhile, was emphasized by Stavros Evangelakakis, Chairman of the Cool Chain Association. “They have become a big earner specifically for airlines, they require skilled ground staff to prevent mishandling causing huge financial losses, and they are an extremely complex component of the due to their sophisticated technique they are an extremely complex loading device, indispensable for shipping temp critical goods.”
Final words from Bob Rogers: “So far, ULDs are often not operated the way they should be operated, but nobody talks much about it. “We all need to get past ignoring the ULD issue and take the next step urgently.” “The good thing is that we are not pushing on the locked door any longer. This door is partially open. So let’s take the next step and go right through it.”

Heiner Siegmund

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