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Container choices

As lower fuel prices have eased some of the cost pressures on cargo operators, ULD management specialists are highlighting some of the other advantages of outsourcing this part of the business. Helen Massy-Beresford finds out more

In the past few years, high fuel prices coupled with airlines’ urgent need to find cost savings have driven demand for a variety of outsourcing projects, such as the management of unit load devices (ULDs).

As fuel prices have come off their highs, the lessening of pressure has allowed ULD specialists to get creative, focusing on the potential for better tracking, and the provision of reliable temperature-controlled transportation in order to attract more business from new and existing airline customers.

“I think the industry benefited a lot from high fuel prices,” says Benoît Dumont, Chief Executive Officer of Unilode Aviation Solutions, formerly known as CHEP Aerospace Solutions, which owns and manages more than 120,000 ULDs.

“Telling airlines we could replace their fleet of heavy aluminium containers with lightweight carbon fibre containers, saving costs and cutting the carbon footprint, was a good argument,” he adds.

Dumont, who joined Unilode in September, explains his outlook: “My view coming into the business is that these financial considerations are probably not as big as they once were – I think we need to embed ourselves in the customer journey a bit more.”

Unilode’s pooling concept is a big draw for airlines: Granting airline customers greater flexibility through access to a much larger pool of Unilode-branded containers, the concept allows costs to be cut down, as well as the risk that they will find themselves short of capacity. “It is about the sharing economy and doing more with less – that should be more and more of a differentiator,” Dumont says.

“The other important factor is using digitisation to have more visibility on where the assets are.

It’s more and more evolving into a big data story, providing information 24/7 to airlines about containers’ locations and other add-on data points (e.g. temperature, humidity), thus offering the industry more opportunity to drive efficient trade lane management.”

Here, it is clear that demand is coming from airline customers, he says. “Across the industry, 15% of assets probably still get lost. This is expensive, so there is a lot of demand for better tracking.”

While start-ups and technology specialists often come up with new ideas to solve this problem, Dumont says they do not seem to tick all the boxes: cost-effectiveness; easy integration; sufficient coverage; compliance to airline standards; and interoperability. “I don’t think any technology provider offers all this at the moment – our intention is to team up with the best player. We’re looking at what we want to achieve and what the hurdles are, and trying to bring together all the different actors and work with them on establishing the standard that would benefit all parties. There are a lot of good ideas out there, but I think our role is to shape the industry a bit more.”

Jettainer, the ULD management spin-off from Lufthansa Cargo which is still 100% owned by the airline, also sees sophisticated tracking as a key motivator for airlines to entrust their ULDs to external experts. The company has recently introduced smart ULDs and is working with customer Etihad Airways (which recently renewed its contract with Jettainer up through 2021) to introduce them.

“There are two aspects to this,” says Managing Director Carsten Hernig. “One is the location – where is the ULD? And the other is how it has been treated, in terms of shock sensors, temperature and water sensors and so on. We’re still investigating which of these technologies work because it’s a very complex topic in terms of certification. You’re not allowed to put just anything into a container. Then it’s a question of who benefits, at what price.” Jettainer has paired up with Lufthansa Industry Solutions and the University of Cologne, to work on the future of ULDs, big data and other exciting fields.

“We will continue to be the innovation leader in this field with concrete projects and tangible results.”

Hernig also sees the value in teaming up with companies that have complementary strengths and roles to achieve more sophisticated monitoring of ULD shipments. “If the logistical chain – a shipper, a forwarder, an airline, a grant tender and a ULD manager would join forces then technologies are much likelier to be rolled out because it’s simply sharing costs and sharing benefits. Of course, there are benefits for a shipper to know exactly where „a shipment is, and if a container is equipped with a device that can tell you that, then that’s perfect.

I think the trend will go into a collaboration within the chain, in order to drive these benefits.” >>

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