In this guest article, Christine Klemmer, General Manager for skypooling*, takes a look at the upheaval the Covid-19 pandemic brought about, its effects both on a personal and professional level, and provides an opinion on what the air cargo industry focus should be, moving forward.
It was just before Easter last year when my parents became stranded in New Zealand. Due to restrictions on tourism and travel, they had to stay for 16 days near Christchurch airport in their
rented caravan before they were able to return home to Germany. This was the time when the COVID-19 pandemic first affected me, personally.
This also was the time when routines in the ULD industry collapsed (ULDs are Unit Load Devices: containers and pallets used for air cargo and baggage), and when the crisis came closer to all of us, on a personal, but also on a professional level.
Crisis brings aviation industry closer together
Let’s take the New Zealand example. Scheduled flights were cancelled, repatriation flights organized instead. Extra one-way ULDs were needed for passenger baggage in Christchurch and Auckland, for ad hoc flights by airlines that might not normally have scheduled operations at these airports. The lack of ULDs had to be solved, additional units positioned, operational processes had to be arranged with new airport and handling partners.
This was happening around the world; the set-up of additional cargo charters and trucking services added to the complexity. The industry faced ULD understocks at several locations, while containers and pallets were piling up at other airports.
Collaboration makes us stronger
At skypooling, a brand of Jettainer, we experienced great collaboration and willingness to help, however. The online platform for sharing ULDs provided transparency on where ULDs were available, and where they were needed; and brought parties together for a much-needed ULD exchange. Looking at New Zealand again in the peak weeks in March, we recorded around 100 weekly ULD searches for Auckland and Christchurch alone.
Cost pressure increased…
The pandemic put the industry under pressure in many aspects, most prominent may be the pressure on cost. We have experienced a positive trend, though: the recognition of the ULD as a valuable resource that must be used more efficiently. Ideally, this resource should never be moved empty, not stand around idle, or be lost or abandoned.
We observe a growing interest in how this resource can be most efficiently utilized. Airlines are taking a closer look at their ULDs and available aircraft capacities. Airports and handling agents are further exploring how warehouse space utilization can be optimized.
Cost may have been the main driver during the crisis, but perhaps just as important for this industry, is the environmental benefit of using the ULD more consciously as a resource.
… as did the focus on sustainability
Jettainer continuously optimizes the classic approach of outsourced ULD management. The industry expert manages its customers’ ULD fleets in such a way that significantly fewer ULDs are needed, thus reducing tied-up capital and storage capacities. Intelligent control, network synergies, and the use of lightweight ULDs, enables it to minimize the transport of empty ULDs and excess weight, and thus help its airline customers save fuel, CO2, and aircraft capacities.
Another approach is offered by skypooling. By applying the concept of the sharing economy to ULDs, the platform eliminates the need for empty transports for repositioning purposes and thus helps to save fuel and CO2. Users make over- and understock of ULDs transparent, and a matching function brings them together. One airline benefits as it reduces overstock and has ULDs transported to where they are needed. The other benefits as it solves its understock and gets to use units. skypooling users already place some 12,000 ULD requests and offers each week, making ULD use more sustainable. Every AKE container not flown empty on an intercontinental flight, saves 65kg of CO2. Overall, skypooling can help to save up to 100,000 tons of CO2 annually, with proper scaling up to half a million tons.
Recognizing the ULD as a valuable asset
2021 will thus be all about accelerating the idea of a sharing economy to optimize the use of assets within the aviation industry. To further improve this, we work on increasing the total number of airline users and on expanding the spectrum of users to include handling agents and airports.
The aviation industry does not only have a temporary problem due to the COVID-19 pandemic but has a long-term challenge due to its impact on climate, especially due to its emission of carbon dioxide, other greenhouse gases, and several other effects.
SAF can bring the biggest impact
For the aviation industry to become sustainable, we need numerous, comparably small initiatives – like optimizing the use of ULDs. And we need high impact measures as well. The initiatives to operate flights with Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), from industry players like Atlas Air (https://www.cargoforwarder.eu/2021/01/03/atlas-air-flies-through-the-longest-night-using-saf/), DHL Express (https://www.cargoforwarder.eu/2020/12/17/breaking-news-dhl-express-enters-the-saf-avenue/), Lufthansa Cargo and DB Schenker (https://www.cargoforwarder.eu/2020/11/29/lh-cargo-and-db-schenker-join-forces-in-climate-protection/) give a promising outlook.
My parents plan to return to New Zealand to continue their travels when it is safe to do so. This may not yet be on a flight operated fully sustainably with SAF or alternative green technologies, but it may well be with ULDs shared on skypooling.
The industry’s perseverance, its continuous close collaboration, and the strong focus on sustainability – during and despite the crisis – astonish me and reassure me to look confidently towards 2021 and beyond.
Thank you, Christine Klemmer, for your insights and views.
Christine Klemmer is General Manager for skypooling, a brand of Jettainer.
*skypooling is an online platform where airlines, ULD management and leasing companies, ground handlers, and others with a need for or an overstock of ULDs (Unit Load Devices) can share their resources. The first of its kind, the “ULD dating platform” as it is fondly referred to, helps users to solve cargo container or pallet imbalances, eliminate empty transports needed for ULD repositioning, and thus save fuel and CO2. It offers a “one-stop-marketplace for ULDs”, enabling direct communication between all parties through the platform, and is a valuable resource in ensuring that ULDs need not remain idle. Check out www.skypooling.com