New Twist For Narrow Bodies

Feature New Twist For Narrow Bodies Scandinavian Airline System (SAS) has created a new company and a revolutionary first product that could fundamentally change the physical handling of narrow body aircraft. Richard Rowe reports from Copenhagen...

Operated by two people, each RampSnake is electrically-powered with a built-in charger and battery supplying 80 volts for driving and 24 volts for loading and unloading. At only 6 by 2 metres (19.5-ft. by 6.5-ft.), it is extremely compact.

The lead baggage handler opens the cargo door, as the other prepares a rear lifter for loading. The boom and front section can be raised and lowered from the driver's cab as well as from the actual front section controls. To ensure correct position, the whole vehicle can be inched forward by the baggage handler in the cargo door. The soft extension platform bridges the gap between vehicle and aircraft; with nothing hard touching the aircraft skin. The platform itself is automatically kept level during set up and as the aircraft settles during loading and unloading.

From the raised boom, the RampSnake is inserted onto the floor of the cargo compartment. The required extension into the aircraft and to the end of the cargo compartment is done by moving the unit in and out of a carousel built into the vehicle's chassis. Several linked modules, each fitted with an individual conveyor belt, allow it to turn inside the cargo door and transport baggage around the corner. The speed of the interlocked belts can only be regulated at the end of the RampSnake that receives baggage.

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Peter Minor, RampSnakes's Managing Director/CEO, shares some thoughts prior to loading baggage items.

When unloading, the baggage handler works his way into the cargo compartment with the lifter. Extended to its maximum length, the system can service cargo compartments of up to eight metres (26 feet) in length. From the control panel on the lifter, the baggage handler controls the extension of the unit left, right, and up and down. Baggage is collected from almost anywhere within the compartment without the handler bearing excessive weight.

Developed with short transfers in mind, the RampSnake enables manual sorting of Quick Transfer Baggage using a conventional conveyor belt parallel to the boom. From here, baggage can be transferred to a cart with the help of a side lifter.

SAS tests have shown that the rear lifter on the unit significantly reduces the physical strain on the operator; handlers can guide baggage off the belt as it reaches the end of the rear lifter, rather than physically lifting each item.

For departing baggage, the direction of the RampSnake is reversed and the cargo compartment loaded. Now the baggage handler in the cargo hold controls the speed of baggage (adjustable up to 0.75 metres per second). As baggage is transported into the hold, the handler delivers individual pieces of baggage using the lifter, thus avoiding harmful twisting movements. RampSnake copes well with odd-sized baggage, such as skis and folded-up prams.

Actively involved as a super user, the Danish health and safety delegate says that, when operated correctly, the RampSnake reduces the load on ramp personnel by a minimum of 85 percent. SAS loaders themselves say that it takes time to get used to guiding baggage rather than lifting, but are already feeling the benefits at the end of each shift. With more training, the operation can only become slicker, and safer.

The 100-percent, SAS-owned RampSnake company is led by Managing Director, Peter Minor. Previously head of the airline's ground handling operations in Denmark, Minor also had system-wide responsibility for all aircraft ground handling processes at SAS. RampSnake's partner in the project is CPH Industriel Design, based in Copenhagen.

Minor recognised that while millions of dollars have been pumped into enhancements above the wing, ground handling remains relatively under funded. "We looked at our ground operation and calculated that more than 60 percent of our costs came from the ramp," explains Minor.

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