Newsletter no 33 – July 2020

When we posted our last newsletter back in February COVID-19 was still in its infancy and we were probably quite unaware of the magnitude of the tidal wave that would sweep over not only the world’s population but also the world’s airline industry. Without dwelling too long on this extraordinary set of circumstances it is of course very very distressing for us to see so many of our member airlines having to park so many of their extremely valuable aircraft, not to mention ULD for the foreseeable future, when and how we emerge from this still remains to be seen. And we hear from at least some of our members that being a ULD manager  in today’s environment is quite stressful as repositioning empties has become increasingly difficult, we hope everybody is managing to keep their heads above water.

Unable as we are to put in place our traditional annual gathering ULD CARE has been turning its attention to developing various new solutions that can support enhanced ULD operations once things start to come back to life. It is actually quite extraordinary that just as the worlds Airline industry is in a state of suspended animation, we actually have some very interesting new technologies coming to the forefront, technologies that offer considerable possibilities for the ULD community, so it seems appropriate that this newsletter will focus on new tech.

At the top of the list and probably laying a foundation for a number of the other opportunities is the ULD CARE Blockchain proof of concept project.

We are now about six weeks away from this going live with our initial four participants and with everything more or less on track, in all probability the next newsletter will be able to illustrate some actual hard data from the Blockchain system. And at the same time we are now starting to look closely at the next steps, as although the POC simply replicates the current IULDUG system functions this is only the first step, .and we are excited by the opportunity to extend the system to allow it to capture all transfers of custody of ULD between all parties and not just airline to airline as in the current set up. Watch this space for further developments.

There are already two emerging spin-offs from the Blockchain system development.

The first of these is the use of Image Capture and machine learning to be able to identify damage on any particular ULD and compare it almost instantaneously to previous images of the same ULD. Maybe this sounds a little too ambitious but we are beginning to learn that is not the case and that this kind of technology is already being applied in many other industries and that it is only a matter of time before we can do something similar with ULD. We are currently holding some discussions with a Hong Kong company in this field and expect to have more to share in the coming months.

The second is the use of big data to forecast the demand for ULD at any particular airport at any particular time. Again, big data management is a rapidly evolving technology, we were recently introduced to a Singapore based company that is already doing work on forecasting the demand for seafreight containers, working for various shipping lines, and have been looking into applying the same technology to managing the positioning of ULD.

Demand sensing and empty ULD repositioning

It is early days with both these projects and we cannot yet foretell exactly how ULD CARE will become involved but we believe it is certainly worthwhile sharing these possibilities with our members.

Now back earlier in the year as COVID-19 started to bite and news emerged that airlines were starting to load cargo into passenger cabins using various solutions we did put out a paper on what we termed a Combi Lite solution which is actually an idea from back in the 70s which can potentially be dusted off. In the same vein we are pleased to share with you some innovation from a German company Umlaut, whose concept involves the use of cabin cargo trolleys which can be rolled into the cabin much like a catering trolley (after removal of the seats) but then are secured into the seat tracks. Though not exactly a ULD in the normal sense this is nonetheless an interesting technical solution that may well become of interest in these strange days and as such ULD CARE is pleased to be able to share such ideas.

Virtual reality training for ULD

In our last newsletter we mentioned working with Airport College on developing virtual reality training for ULD and we are delighted to be able to announce that we have entered into an agreement with Airport College to support their activities in this area through an investment in the initial products and also through its promotion through our membership. We are currently working on a package of introductory materials for both LD3 and Pallet/Net inspection training, meanwhile to give you an idea of the kind of reality this system can provide here are a few images:

While VR is more commonly associated with wearing a headset and using handheld controllers it is also just as affective on a typical computer monitor screen and it does not take a great deal of imagination to see that even the most inexperienced operator can be exposed to a very lifelike experience of inspecting a ULD and identifying the damages while simply sitting at a desk in a training room.

Video conferences

We hope you can see that far from sitting back and waiting for COVID-19 to be over ULD CARE is doing its best to continue to deliver new and value creating solutions to the industry.

In further news we are pleased to add a new section on our website where we will be posting videos on various subjects, in today’s world of zoom it seems relevant to take this step and as a kick-off we now have:

1. The BLE Story, an interview with Ian Craig of Core and John Van Gessel of Air New Zealand covering the story so far from both the developer and one of the early adopters.

The BLE Journey V51

2. Two interviews with Manoj Menon, how many of you will know is the ULD manager at Emirates. The first covers features and benefits of the IULDUG system and the second is designed to explain some of the systems main features.

IULDUG Explained
Features and benefits of IULDUG

We will be adding more videos regularly to this section of the website, watch this space !!!

One of the reasons that the BLE interview was first out of the box was that John Van Gessel, who was very much involved in the project was about to retire from NZ and we had to catch him before it was too late, John clocked up an amazing 50 years working for NZ ( actually it was TE when he started) I wonder how many other of our members will managed to clock up that many years in the industry, let alone with a single airline !!!

Air cargo industry survey

Finally, we were contacted recently by the global consulting company PwC in regards to some consultancy work they are doing on the air cargo industry. They would like to include some data on ULD activities as part of the study and we have agreed to list in this newsletter a link to an anonymous  and purely voluntary survey they have created. We have not undertaken such an exercise before but we think it is worthwhile to support any activity which may increase the understanding of the issues surrounding ULD and therefore we make this link available to you to use if you wish to take part

Last but absolutely not least, since the last newsletter we have of course had to cancel the 2020 annual conference however we remain very much committed to returning to a face-to-face event in 2021 and look forward to being able to provide everybody with more information in the coming months.

For those of you who are managing to achieve some sort of summer holiday break we hope you have a great time and for everybody we hope you stay healthy and safe.