How the Industry is Charting a Course for Cargo Handlers

April 23, 2020
IATA’s Cargo Handling Manual and Smart Facility Operational Capacity program aim to standardize cargo handling and reduce complex audits.

Guidelines for cargo operations evolve to ensure best practices for handling freight as well as ensure the safety of the personnel loading and unloading bulk shipments from aircraft.

To assist ground handling agents (GHAs) with these objectives, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) regularly updates working parameters in the IATA Cargo Handling Manual (ICHM) and recently launched a new program to improve global standards across cargo operations.

Now in its fourth edition, the ICHM is a high-level cargo handling procedural manual designed for airlines and GHAs that do not have one, or would like to deploy a uniform standard for all their locations, explain officials at Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited (Hactl).

Hactl, along with seven other GHAs and eight airlines, is a member of the IATA Cargo Handling Council (ICHC) and assists in the creation of new guidelines within the ICHM.

“Hactl had created its own operating manual over 30 years earlier, when such manuals were almost non-existent,” a Hactl spokesperson says. “It has been regularly updated ever since to take account of changing regulation, industry environment, technology, etc.

“Hactl conducted mapping of ICHM against its own operating manual in 2018 using the mapping tool provided by IATA, which revealed that over 95 percent of content was already covered: with the only significant variance being content in Hactl’s manual relating to Hong Kong industry practices and specifics,” the Hactl spokesperson adds.

Adoption of practices outlined in the ICHM has increased since its creation and continues to advance thanks to industry feedback.

According to IATA officials, four updates were made to the 2020 edition of the ICHM, including:

  • Export rules and risk mitigation for embargoes and dual use items.
  • References to Live Animal Regulations (LAR), Perishable Cargo Regulations (PCR) and Temperature Control Regulations (TCR), as well as detailed instructions for the handling and build-up of unit load devices (ULDs).
  • Electronic Air Waybill (e-AWB) standard operating procedures to clearly promote e-AWB and its implementation.
  • A training matrix based on the workflow in cargo using the Competency Based Training Assessment (CBTA) methodology.

“I believe the updated information regarding the use of ULDs, serviceability checks and ULD build-up are very detailed and will certainly help in reaching a new level of safety in handling and operations,” says Brendan Sullivan, head of e-commerce and cargo operations at IATA.

He adds that the training requirements for cargo handling based on the CBTA methodology, endorsed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), is welcomed in the industry as training is a pillar for a safe and efficient cargo operation.

Appendix C in the IATA Cargo Handling Manual, which addresses the safety, efficiency and integrity of air cargo logistics, is vital to airlines and cargo handlers and may have significant impact on the industry,” says a spokesperson from Singapore Airlines (SIA).

Smart Facility Operational Capacity

In addition to the ICHM, IATA has launched a new program to improve global standards in cargo handling operations. The Smart Facility Operational Capacity (SFOC) program is designed to reduce the complexity and duplication of audits for cargo handling facilities.

IATA officials note the SFOC program has two components. The first is to standardize the global audit program and the second is a commitment to audit reduction.

“The SFOC audit is based on the Smart Facility Standards Manual (SFSM) which contains all questions assessing cargo handling standards,” says Sullivan. “The SFSM constitutes the largest common denominator of individual airline audits questions, i.e. all audit questions that are generic to individual airline audits are covered in the SFSM.

“Airlines that support Smart Facility perform a gap analysis between the SFSM and their own audit questions to identify exactly which standards are assessed during the SFOC audit. Based on the results, the airlines can determine exactly how much they can reduce their audit scope for SFOC certified handlers,” he continues. “This applicable reduction is then manifested in the Audit Reduction Commitment (ARC) between the airline and IATA and available to Cargo Handling Facilities (CHF) to determine upfront the benefits of becoming SFOC certified. Gap analyses performed during our trial phases and continuing now in the live program indicate at least 50 percent reduction with some airlines coverage exceeding 80 percent.”

The SFOC also ensures entities are compliant with the ICHM and adhere to IATA’s Resolutions and Recommended Practices regarding cargo handling through on-site audits performed by industry experts using the SFSM checklist and questions, assessing each item of cargo handling equipment, infrastructure and procedures to operate them in accordance to IATA’s standards and recommended practices.

“Each SFSM question is designed to validate a specific cargo handling standard or recommended practice found within the different IATA Regulations,” says Sullivan, noting ICHM, TCR, ULD regulations, and Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR) as examples. “It also works hand in hand with IATA’s CEIV (Center of Excellence for Independent Validators in Pharmaceutical Logistics) programs, to deliver the most efficient experience possible.”

 IATA launched the program with SATS Singapore as the first CHF to be certified and Singapore Airlines as the first airlines to sign the ARC. IATA is extending the program by actively involving more airlines and CHFs, including sharing an explanatory video encouraging carriers to support the initiative.

 “The success of SFOC really depends on its acceptance by carriers, as they are the parties conducting audits,” a Hactl spokesperson says.

“Hactl fully supports the concept, which would reduce the number of audits to which it is subjected and reduce the cost to us and the parties originating those audits,” the spokesperson continues. “Accordingly, we made our SuperTerminal1 facility available to IATA for the running of a pilot audit in 2018.”

Sullivan says the initial response to the SFOC program has been positive.

“The member airlines of the IATA Cargo Advisory Council fully support the initiative to reduce redundant audit efforts for the industry,” he says. “And CHFs welcome the introduction of the ARC, which gives clear visibility how much audit reduction to expect for each supporting airline.”