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Handle with care

The care and operation of ULDs has come under the spotlight recently, and as Bob Rogers Vice President at ULD CARE reveals, there are some new solutions to old problems
It may come as a surprise to many in the air cargo industry that there is an organisation under the name of ULD CARE.  There are at least 124 members representing 30 airlines, who between them own approximately 75% of the world’s ULDs. Other members include six ULD leasing and management companies, and 23 associated service providers.
They all gathered together in Guangzhou in early October, to spend just over two days talking about everything involving Unit Load Devices (ULDs), and it’s evident there is more to these pieces of equipment than is sometimes realised. 
The theme for the event in China was ‘Ready for the Future? New Solutions for Old Problems’, and indeed, it seems old problems are still in abundance. It is approaching 60 years since the airline industry first played with the idea of using some kind of device to unitise the baggage and cargo carried in the holds of civil aircraft. Today, around 900,000 ULDs – with a replacement value of around $1 billion – support the world’s air cargo operations.  The under-recognised workhorse of the airline industry, ULDs have delivered enormous benefits, and supported a growth in air cargo that might otherwise never have happened. 
There is a great deal more to the ULDs than might appear at first glance, and the conference provided the industry players with an opportunity to learn more about new developments, as well as exchange ideas with their counterparts. 
This year’s conference was built around a number of themes, one of them being ‘The ULD CARE Code of Conduct’. Codes of conduct are a widely used practice in many sectors, but are not generally found in aviation. So why a code for ULDs? ULDs operate in a rather unique environment. Because they are loaded into the aircraft and secured into the cargo loading system, they are performing a flight safety function. They can also be found hundreds of miles away from the nearest airport at a shipper, consignee or forwarder facility. 
And then there are the vast range of people who work with ULDs, and the human interaction around them that must be considered in respect to handling. Not only do ULDs have to function across multiple locations, but also across multiple standards. ULDs, being part of the aircraft flight safety system, are subject to the same level of aviation regulatory compliance as any other part of the aircraft. The typical cargo operation is carried out by outsourced service providers, forwarders, and even shippers, operating far outside any kind of aviation-regulated environment.
In order to address any shortcomings that may occur due to the unique nature of ULD handling, there was a need to launch the code of conduct. The objective was to provide a simple to understand yet highly relevant set of codes, for anyone and everyone to follow when working with or around ULDs. For instance, the ‘One’ code is that the supply side of the industry – from ULD designers through to ULD maintenance and repair organisations – will make ULDs available that are fit for purpose, while the ‘Ten’ code applies to the handling and operation of ULDs, which these days is mostly by outsourced service providers and forwarders. >>

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