ULDs are ready for their closeup

Air Freight ContainersSHANGHAI – Unit load devices (ULDs), as we know them, have been around for at least 45 years, but for some reason, they are still the Rodney Dangerfield of the aviation industry. During Monday’s “ULD Regulations Workshop” at IATA’s World Cargo Symposium, they finally got the respect they deserved as critical safety parts of every cargo aircraft with newly revised IATA regulations and the debut of a video that gives ULDs the Hollywood treatment.

Urs Wiesendanger, manager of cargo network control, ULD logistics, at Air Canada, told the workshop attendees that the latest version of IATA’s “ULD Regulations” manual (ULDR) helps emphasize the importance of treating ULDs with proper care. ULDR represents a “single set of regulations for all parties involved, conforming to all legally applicable regulations.”

Despite their importance, ULDs are vulnerable to mistreatment and damage. Liao Zhi Yong, manager of business process and standards at IATA, said a ULD is possibly the only part of an aircraft “that leaves the airlines and then returns back from multiple unregulated hands and has an impact on airline safety.”

All speakers at the session emphasized that ULD’s equal critical safety equipment, citing several tragic accidents that were caused by improperly secured cargo loads, such as the 2013 National Air Cargo 747 crash at Bagram, Afghanistan, and the 1997 Fine Air Services crash of a DC-8 freighter. As a result, FAA responded with the AC 120-85 Air Cargo Operation regulation, which recognized ULDs as critical safety equipment.

Despite this official federal recognition, many parts of the supply chain have largely ignored the importance of these safety devices, with most ULD operations are now outsourced to third parties.

Of all the reports of ground damage in the aviation industry, the No. 1 most common was ULD containers, with 191 reports, Liao said.

Bob Rogers, vice president, industry affairs, for Nordisk Aviation Products, said that, “While the airlines operate in highly regulated modern world, there is also an unregulated world of ground handlers, cargo terminals and forwarders, where a ULD isn’t an aircraft part anymore.”

To help alert the rest of the industry about this serious issues, IATA and ULD Care, a Canada-based consortium of companies that handle ULDs, produced a 9-minute video called “SOS ULD: Time to Take ULD Care!” The free video – that is downloadable at sos-uld.com – describes how ULDs are used and often abused, and proposes solutions to help limit mishandling

Wiesendanger said the video will be a “high-quality communications” tool to help raise awareness about abuse of ULDs worldwide and gain buy-in from airline executives, cargo heads, shippers, ground service handlers and forwarders. “I like to call it pushing on an open door,” he said.

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