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...

Lars Thøgersen, Chief Designer and Managing Director, CPH Industriel Design, watches the RampSnake.

This lack of attention to ramp handling operations had not escaped the notice of Arbejdstilsynet (AT), Denmark's governmental health and safety body. "For a long time we tried to close our eyes, but we knew we had a problem," admits Minor.
Working with SID, the Danish loaders union, SAS began a joint study in early 1998 together with Lars Thøgersen, Managing Director, Partner at CPH.

According to Minor, the timing was excellent. "We were under extreme pressure from the national health authority. In the beginning of 1999, they said
they wouldn't allow us to work the way we had been working."

Most worrying for SAS, AT threatened legislation that could put a ceiling on the amount of kilos a worker was allowed to lift per day. "If we had lived under [planned] restrictions, I would have had to hire at least 600 people just in Copenhagen," says Minor.

Strict short- and long-term measures were promised to avoid the legislation. "In the long term, we had to promise them [AT] that we were capable of delivering RampSnakes from the beginning of 2003."

With backing from an impressed Vice COO, Maria Ehrling, SAS moved swiftly through the direct development stages to patent application in Denmark in January 2000. Later that year, a non-vehicle prototype was ready.

Until that point, it had been seen as just an internal SAS project. "But we thought this could also do a job for other airlines and started thinking in commercial terms," says Minor. The RampSnake company was born.

Central to the approach has been a relatively small steering committee and innovation that Minor felt could only come from outside the industry. Even more important has been the input from a large user group with experience of every operation from arctic conditions in northern Scandinavia to high transfer operations in Copenhagen.

Lars Thøgersen is amazed that no one has tackled the issue before. "It's been a problem that all the manufacturers have known about for ages, but they have continued to just transport baggage up to the doorway." SAS has now simply bypassed them. "All of a sudden manufacturers wake up and realise that no one needs a belt loader any more," adds Thøgersen.

It is time to leave behind rigid, conservative thinking, agrees Paul Pierroff, RampSnake's new Director Marketing and Sales, who stresses that the most fragile piece of ground handling equipment is the person doing the loading. He is concerned about an industry that develops new models of GSE rather than combining several pieces and functions, and aircraft manufacturers that continue to launch stretch versions of existing models with increasingly lengthy cargo compartments. Pierroff acknowledges developments, but knows that manual handling remains the norm. Of the roughly 10,000 narrow-body aircraft flying today, about 1,000 are containerised, some 1,000 are fitted with Sliding Carpet systems, and the rest are loaded and unloaded manually, he says.

Baggage Handling 5

SAS's new RampSnake readies for another test.

The RampSnake's main focus is on the B-737, MD, and Airbus A-320 families — aircraft with the biggest problems and largest volumes worldwide, says Minor. "Most of the equipment used today is onboard the plane, but only actually used on the ground. We want to let the aircraft fly unencumbered."

Load times should become quicker, and Minor says that handlers are already loading 150 kilos a minute. When unloading speeds up, transfer baggage also hits the central system quicker. "We have calculated at Copenhagen that we could save 14,000 missed transfer bags a year."

Conventional loading and unloading of narrow-body aircraft requires at least three people: one to load baggage from cart to belt loader; one at the doorway to throw the baggage into the compartment; and one at the end to stack the baggage. Clearly, with a longer cargo compartment, the handler at the doorway is unable to throw heavy baggage beyond eight metres. A fourth person is often required.

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