ULD CARE’s core focus over the past half-century has always been to assist the tracking of interline ULDs by providing a system wherein its member airlines log container/pallet movements and can establish the associated demurrage fees to be invoiced. Based on the ULD Control Receipt (UCR), a pretty much unchanged IATA standard document from the 1970s, this process is now ready to go paperless in the form of an App currently being tested. The App will be unveiled in an upcoming ULD CARE web-con on 16FEB22, yet CargoForwarder Global (CFG) wanted to know more and asked Bob Rogers (BR) for details.
CFG: How did the idea for an App arise?
BR: Really a combination of two factors: the first is the need to handle the transfer of ULD from parties outside the airlines themselves. For 50 years now, ULD CARE (previously known as the Interline ULD User Group or IULDUG) has operated a system whereby when our member airlines transfer ULDs between themselves in the course of interlining. The ULD concerned are logged in our system and the associated demurrage is calculated, displayed, and used for invoicing between the airline members.
About 14 years ago, we recognized that although the system was working perfectly well, it was not capable of capturing and managing the large number of ULDs where the transfer takes place outside the airline industry – in other words, to freight forwarders as part of shipper pack operations. Back then, our project efforts to include non-airline players in the ULD transfer process were hindered by having to stick within legacy IT systems and associated EDI systems not suited to handling participation by non-airline parties.
Thus, the second factor is the rapidly changing availability of technology. Today, the concept of using a smartphone or terminal to conduct a transaction is increasingly commonplace. Not only did we recently begin looking into moving the IULDUG system onto a Blockchain platform and increasing its capability to handle nonairline participants, but we also sought to create an App-based, paperless ULD control receipt (UCR). The UCR is an IATA standard document that has been in force since the 1970s and, despite its long period of service, it is still as fit for purpose today as it was then, so it has been a relatively straightforward exercise to transfer the pencil and paper UCR process onto an App.
CFG: What does the App do?
BR: The UCR is the foundation for managing any kind of transfer of custody of ULD and relying on paper-based systems is completely outdated, so this App is a solution to a long-standing problem. At its most basic level, the App simply enables the capture/entry of data relating to the transfer of a ULD asset between two parties. This is not a lot of data:
a. ULD ID Code (all ULD have a unique ID: type/airline serial #/owner code)
b. Date and time of transfer
c. Location of transfer
d. Receiving party
e. Transferring party
f. UCR serial number
g. Final destination (if known)
h. ULD Condition (serviceable/damaged/unserviceable)
I Special codes (these determine the charging of demurrage)
CFG: Who is the App designed for?
BR: Our ambition is to achieve widespread use of the App to replace the current highly inefficient and unreliable paper-based system. Although there is the whole parallel subject of ULD tagging, which is an excellent method of communicating the location of the ULD to its owner, it needs to be remembered that such data cannot replace the UCR, which records the transfer between the two parties and sets up the obligation for payment if the ULD is not returned to the owner promptly.
CFG: Who was involved in the App design and how far along is it?
BR: The App design is a collaboration between a Hong Kong IT company, Virtual Control, and ULD CARE. Work began in 2021, and we now have a functional beta test version which is currently being assessed by a number of our members. The App is still pretty basic, but one development will be the ability to collect photographic evidence of the condition of the ULD at the point of transfer, and provide this information to the ULD owner, enabling them to recover the expense of repairing damage to their equipment. Something most of us already do when we pick up a rental car, for example, taking pictures of any pre-existing damage at time of pick up. The next step is to come up with a full production version of the App, and we are already discussing the mechanics of doing this.
CFG: Does the App integrate with other systems?
BR: There are 2 basic messages when it comes to ULD activity, a LUC and a MUC. The LUC is the ULD Exchange Message and the MUC is the Multilateral ULD Exchange Message which is the message that feeds our IULDUG system. The App generates both LUC or MUC, depending on the type of transfer, and produces a pdf UCR, enabling owners to have a copy of the proof of transfer.
CFG: Is the data capture via scanning, or does it need to be fed in manually?
BR: The primary bit of data is of course the ULD ID code, e.g. AKE 12345 CX. This is easily read by the smartphone camera for a container which has 4.”" high letters on at least 2 sides. It’s a bit harder on a single pallet (e.g. a built-up pallet), as the markings are only ”" high engravings on the pallet edge rail and may not be in such good condition, and it’s a lot harder on a stack of 15 pallets being repositioned as empties, as not only are the markings not always in good condition, but if the stack is not 100% straight (and few are), then it’s hard to see all of the ID codes. However, there is the capability to enter the ID codes manually on screen. The digitalization of pallet identification anyhow needs revision in the industry, and there are opportunities for improvement out there.
CFG: Has there been collaboration with ULD management companies and air cargo system providers?
BR: The ULD management companies such as Unilode, Jettainer, and ACL are all members of ULD CARE, and we very much involve with them. In my expectation, the current App is simply an incubation vehicle, and I can see no reason why they may want to add the functionality into their own Apps.
It is a different story with the system providers. They have never been particularly concerned about ULDs, although they mostly do provide a ULD management module in their systems. The IULDUG is unique in being a platform for both the parties in a ULD transaction, e.g. LH transfers to BA, and both can see the records in the system. That will never happen in an airline’s proprietary system. The system providers are no doubt interested in the ULD when it is carrying cargo, but the moment it’s an empty, it is “off the radar”.
Thank you for your insights, Bob. I am sure our readers will be keen to learn about when and where the App will be made available, and whether it will be free or fee-based, in your ULD CARE event on 16FEB22.
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