The Need for SAE

One hundred meetings is a pretty good time to reflect on the contribution or otherwise of a gathering of people, especially if they are more technically orientated. There is a tendency for such gatherings to become self-perpetuating — locked up in their own little world of problems, both perceived and actual. It is very easy to take one’s existence for granted as there will always be problems to resolve and even if there aren’t, there are always documents to be reviewed and updated — just to keep everybody busy.

This isn’t the case with SAE International AGE–2 Air Cargo & Aircraft Ground Equipment & Systems Committee and its subcommittees: AGE-2A Cargo Handling Subcommittee; AGE-2C Vehicle Maintenance & Aircraft Servicing Subcommittee; and AGE-2D Packaging, Handling & Transportability Subcommittee.

Being in the aviation industry, there are continual challenges that need to be dealt with. This is a fast-moving industry, so response times must be quick to keep pace with the changes that we face. The rapidly escalating prices of fuel and the increasingly stringent safety and security measures are two — at times conflicting, at other times complementary — aspects that the industry is facing and that AGE-2 can contribute positively toward. That it can contribute to these facets of the industry is because of the composition of the members of the committee and subcommittees. It is refreshing to be involved in an institution where the people are there for the contribution they can make and not because they have to be there.

The membership currently comprises:

  • manufacturers and distributors of ground support equipment, ULDs (Unit Load Devices) and the various accessories used for securing the cargo to the ULDs
  • manufacturers of airframes
  • airlines — cargo, as well as mixed cargo and passenger, IATA, which sums up their requirements and even some of the military users
  • regulatory bodies such as the FAA
  • industry consultants
  • liaisons to other standards bodies such as ISO

It is this wide spectrum of representation that gives AGE-2 the authority to voice its opinion as well as produce its standards and have these accepted by the industry as both intrinsically correct as well as practical. Despite the wide involvement, however, there are some flaws and thinly covered areas which would enhance the committees if they were remedied.

A Different Time in the Industry
There was a time when the flag-carrier airlines, typically state-run, dominated the aviation industry landscape. The airline owned and operated virtually everything to do with the business of flying and aircraft. If you had trouble finding parking at the airport, were missing your luggage, or your coffee in the terminal building restaurant was cold and the cake stale, you called the airline to complain. This has changed in the last 20 or so years. Airlines have dissociated themselves from many operations they consider to be non-core to their business. This has become even more apparent to the traveling public as they can now mutter at the restaurant management about their cold coffee rather than taking it up with the minister of transport.

What is not seen by the ordinary traveler is the spinning off of other aspects of the air travel industry to non-airline role-players. Of relevance to this discussion is the separation of the airports’ management and operations from the airlines, the contracting out of ground handling and ramp handling operations to third parties, and the increasing remoteness of the law and regulatory authorities from the practicalities of airport and aircraft operations. Along with the transfer of these aspects of aviation from the realm of the airlines to other companies has gone the skills and knowledge housed within these areas of the airline business. Often the people involved with these operations were the “back-room boys” who were hardly noticed in the bigger scheme of things in the airline, but on whom the nitty-gritty business of making the whole thing fly depended. These are the people who sat down with the manufacturers of ULDs, rope nets, cargo haulage tugs, etc., and together thrashed out something that was fit for purpose. Now that many airlines have dispensed with these “superfluous” functions, there is something of a vacuum. What happened to these skilled and knowledgable individuals warrants pause for thought.

Many would have been absorbed into the remaining technical or management functions of the airline. Some would have been employed by the new functionaries, but often due to their “back-room boy” nature and status (a lot of experience and very little in the way of formal qualifications, the means by which the new functionaries would assess ability), they would have been shunted off into the type of position with little say over strategy and specifications. By being out of the airline and in the background, opportunities to meet with colleagues and discuss technical issues became limited or nil. In addition, they haven’t been given the opportunity to pass on their skills and knowledge to future generations since the importance of their functions has become diluted or lost. The result is a dearth of technically orientated representation from airport authorities, ground handlers and ramp handlers, as well as lack of the appropriate skills in a lot of the airlines.

Looking at the airports, ground and ramp handlers, it is apparent that these companies haven’t yet realized that there are forums at which they can address problems they have with equipment, layout, process flows and procedures. It is likely they are talking to the airlines, but I am not sure they are speaking to the correct people at the airlines, or even if the correct people are still there. The law-making and regulatory authorities have also become increasingly remote from their actual reason for existence, security issues continually testing the bounds of practicality and cost effectiveness of air travel.

Industry Expertise, a Challenge
AGE-2 is itself not immune from these developments as we have seen some old hands retire without a commensurate influx of new members. We are, however, fortunate to be able to attract and retain quite a number of “old masters” who are ideally placed to pass on their expertise.

It is in this set of circumstances that the AGE-2 set of subcommittees has a vital role to play in the future. The challenge facing AGE-2 is how to attract, develop and retain the necessary level of expertise in at least one place for the benefit of the industry. By promoting what it is we do beyond the narrow scope of the airlines and manufacturers, we can involve the new role-players and functionaries. We can pass on our skills and knowledge to the new generation. Also, we can learn from this new audience, making our work more pertinent and relevant in today’s dynamic aviation world by addressing the challenges presented not only by the airlines and manufacturers, as in the past, but also those of the broader customer and user base of today and the future.

The AGE-2 committee and subcommittees have a proud history which lends credence and authority to the work produced. By bringing on board the “new” users and customers — the ULD pooling companies, the airport and air-cargo warehousing consulting companies, the airport authorities themselves, the likes of FAA and EASA as well as IATA — we enhance our ability to provide top quality, practical and relevant sets of standards and practices to benefit the aviation industry globally.

The next meeting of the SAE International AGE-2 committees is scheduled for Oct. 20-22, 2008 in Indianapolis, Ind.

For more information on this upcoming meeting or the AGE-2 committees, please contact Maureen Lemankiewicz at or by calling directly (724) 772-7147.