During a recent delay on the ramp at JFK while my carrier took on extra fuel to compensate for a last minute increase in cargo destined for Puerto Rico, I was reminded of the increasing importance of cargo handling to cash-strapped passenger airlines. Because of post 9/11 decreases in passenger loads, and upward spiralling fuel costs, combination airlines have been forced to restructure with a greater reliance on air cargo. With world trade growing at a phenomenal rate, passenger carriers must improve their ramp (handling, storage and redistribution) efficiency as one important step towards bringing them out of their present difficulties. Changes, however, have taken place primarily behind the scene: increased competition with cargo and express carriers, closer ties with freight forwarders, greater security measures, more sophisticated tracking and logistics management and international agreements opening new transport markets. Air Canada, for instance has recently announced expansion of several shared cargo, and even some dedicated cargo routes into China.
In a global market where time-sensitive delivery of goods is critical to the supply chain, passenger carriers are in an excellent position to maximize profits on their existing routes with comparatively little additional capital expense. To customers looking for short cut-off times and less reliance on regional distribution centers, the sheer number and accessibility of passenger flights makes them a viable shipping alternative. In sharp contrast to other segments of the industry, however, little seems to have changed on the front line of the ramp-handling operation. It remains a labor-intensive activity where the best potential for maximising profitability appears to depend on lowering maintenance costs through increasing the quality and manoeuvrability of equipment.
Since its acquisition of the Moody Industry Division in mid 2004, well-known GSE manufacturer ACCESSAIR Systems has extended its focus on ramp efficiency to include cargo handling products previously designed and manufactured under the brand name of Moody Industries. Within its wide range of cargo handling carts, trailer, dollies, pallets, platforms and storage racks, ACCESSAIR is particularly pleased with the cost-cutting efficiencies which are built into its new-generation TTAS (Turntable trailer with automatic stops) with its 360º rotation and an innovative stop mechanism which engages automatically as the container slides onto the deck.
Following rigorous trials by major carriers such as Delta Airlines, and at international airports such as Heathrow, reports have consistently shown that the patented automatic container locking feature on the TTAS virtually eliminates operator error and container mishap. Units are not only easier to handle than traditional models but downtime due to upkeep and repairs has reportedly been reduced by close to 50%.
In addition to its two-fold advantage of reducing container handling time and saving on labor costs with its one-man operation, the design of the TTAS allows it to be moved across the ramp at higher speeds than the older units which were often ruined in an attempt to keep to a tight schedule. Fast becoming a favorite of airline customers with a need to maximize the profitability of their cargo handling operations, the new units are scheduled to come off the ACCESSAIR production line at a rate of some 200 per month over the next few months. By the beginning of 2006 these new units will have joined others already on the ramp and will be even more widely distributed through major airports.
In addition to the TTAS, ACCESSAIR produces a full line of trailers and dollies with automatic or manual stops as well as baggage and cargo handling carts, slave pallets and storage racks. Trailers range between capacities of 7000 lbs and the 30,000 lbs handled by the heavy duty ELPC-20 which is 20 ft. long and has 10 manual pallet stops to handle a mix of containers or pallets.