Managing ULD inventories

Introduced over 40 years ago, back when the Boeing 747 was first making waves, the humble ULD has become an inextricable part of commercial wide body air transport. These sturdy, but relatively light-weight units have progressed over the years to comprise a whole range of special purpose designs and along with their growing prevalence has come the realisation of the importance of managing their inventories. Manfred Singh reports.

Management of ULDs has been one of the top priorities of carriers, particularly as trimming costs wherever possible became mission number one in the global recession of last year. Over five years ago, US Airways was the first US international carrier to outsource its ULD management to Jettainer for five years. At that time, the move was expected to save US Airways nearly US$2 million on ULD-related costs of ownership over the duration of the five-year contract through focused management services and dedicated technologies.

While airline cargo bosses remain divided on whether to outsource ULD management to professional outfits like Champ, Unitpool or Jettainer, James Fernandez — RVP sales & marketing, Champ Cargosystems, believes that the choice to outsource rests with the airline. “My view is to understand and measure the savings one would gain before going for outsourcing.”

Indeed, outsourcing has now become an accepted fact. While the cargo market shrank on one hand, on the other was the galloping price of oil. The twin enemies forced air carriers to develop strategies to keep their noses above water with the help of flexible providers of outsourceservices. Such moves, naturally gave rise to new opportunities in outsourced ULDmanagement.

Take the case of Unitpool. The company has around 22,000-odd ULDs on its roster and it not only manages, but tracks and traces and even carries out repairs of the units used by its more than 20 customer-airlines. Unitpool starts off by buying an airline’s inventory of ULDs. It then meshes the ULDs into the Unitpool fleet after which it allots the ULDs needed to the airline under a contract. The system enables carriers to cut down significantly on the number of ULDs required for freight operations. Also it enables customers to avoid the headaches of ULD repairs and their procurement.