Coordinating the movements of thousands of containers and pallets at airports around the globe is sometimes as complicated as managing a fleet of aircraft. Lufthansa leaves that specialist job to Jettainer
At her desk in the Jettainer office in Raunheim, near Frankfurt, Germany, supervisor Uta Linnemann has two computer screens to keep an eye on. Lufthansa Cargo has just put in an order for 200 containers and 50 pallets to replenish its stocks of unit load devices or ULDs, as they are called in the air freight industry, and a number of containers need to be sent to the workshop in Mörfelden, not far from the airport, for repair. As usual, time is short, and the next jobs in the waiting loop have already flashed up on the screens. One of the last big waves of tourism has just begun to ebb, and this is a particularly busy time of year in which worldwide stocks of containers and pallets are resorted and redistributed.
In 2003, Lufthansa Cargo decided to coordinate its own container supplies and improve efficiency by outsourcing the job. So it turned one of its departments into an independent company called Jettainer. One year later, the wholly owned Lufthansa Cargo subsidiary went into business with just a handful of experts. Today, Jettainer’s team of 52 is responsible for 65,000 ULDs, and every day on average, it coordinates just over 220,000 ULD movements worldwide. In addition to Frankfurt, Jettainer’s main logisitical hubs include Abu Dhabi, Rome and Zurich.
There are two categories of ULDs: pallets and containers. The latter come in different shapes and sizes for use on different types of aircraft. But what all of the containers have in common are specially designed, mostly “cut-off” corners, which means that they fit into the rounded body of an aircraft in the best possible way. Jettainer’s selection also includes special types of containers, such as horseboxes. “It’s like managing a fleet of aircraft,” says Martin Kraemer, Marketing Manager at Jettainer. “The goal is to keep them in the air for as long as possible; having too many ULDs on the ground is inefficient.”
The largest Jettainer warehouse is right on the apron at Frankfurt Airport. Inside, forklift operators use a few well-practiced maneuvers to position the ULDs wherever they are needed for pick-up by the trucks that drive over, load up the empty containers and take them to the terminal for reloading. Each ULD is electronically registered and assigned by the office to its next trip. Jettainer moved to its current section of the apron in the spring of 2013. There are plans to integrate a repair shop so as to speed up repairs and improve efficiency even further.
Jettainer handles ULD management for 12 other airlines in addition to Lufthansa – and that number is growing. The company’s extensive network coupled with a highly flexible software system that it developed in-house to meet individual customer requirements, has already helped it to optimize efficiency. “Certain processes for which an airline used to require 100 ULDs can be managed using an average of just 80,” explains Kraemer. “We can do this because we have optimized our workflow. Another advantage to using us is that airlines no longer face the expense of having to maintain their own containers.” Instead, they pay leasing fees for the ULDs and Jettainer takes care of the maintenance costs.
Not all airlines are willing to give up their container provision business entirely. But in times of rising kerosene prices, weight reduction is a tremedously important consideration. That’s why Jettainer has developed a very convincing new product for potential but still hesitant new customers: a special, lightweight ULD. This featherweight showpiece of the container world is almost completely made of plastic. Only the floor panel and a number of metal struts and bolts are made of lightweight metal. The walls are extremely durable and robust thanks to their honeycomb structure. Whereas the tare weight of a conventional aluminum con- tainer is 82 kilos, a lightweight, mostly plastic ULD of the same size weighs in at between 64 and 72 kilos empty. Many customers are already planning to gradually replace their aluminum containers with the new plastic variety. A further selling point: Aluminum containers have a life expectancy of approximately ten years; the new ones are supposed to last a little longer. “Another great advantage is that the lightweight containers are quick and easy to assemble,” says Martin Kraemer, smiling, “in under an hour, in fact – that’s less time than it takes to put up an IKEA shelf unit!”
Text: Andreas Lampert