Future Ramp: Digitalize Your Load Control Ramp Activities
Digitalized Load Control on the ramp means to provide the ramp agent with a mobile solution that allows to update important load data directly from the apron – without any paperwork or phone. Please read more in this blog.
In my initial publication for the multi-part blog “Future Ramp: Digitalize Your Ramp” I mentioned several important airline business processes to be handled on the ramp that from today’s point of view could be digitalized to a large extent, if not even fully. These were for example:
- Load Control
- Cargo Management
- Turnaround Management
- Passenger & Baggage Handling (Local and Transfer Passengers / Bags):
- Directing aircraft through the apron
- Observing safety and quality in Ground Handling
- Other important ramp agent tasks (e.g. calling ambulance, doctor)
In this blog we will have a look together about how Load Control can fit into the concept of a digitalized ramp.
What is Weight & Balance / Load Control about?
Although I know almost all of you are airliners, here is just a short recap, what airline Load Control is about – for those who maybe focus on different operational fields: Load Control or also called Weight and Balance was inaugurated due to the law of physics and aerodynamics. This requires a preparation for a safe flight that must adhere to strict aircraft and flight limits. The aircraft must be loaded, so structural limits are not exceeded. It must be loaded correctly to maintain its balance from take-off through landing and unloading. Consideration must be also given to each different aircraft type. This additionally includes the weight and distribution of fuel, cargo, bags and passengers. The output of the load control process usually are two documents, such as a
- Loading instruction, giving the ramp agent and the loading staff exact information on how the bags, cargo and mail as well as other load items (e.g. dangerous goods, animals, etc.) should be loaded within the aircraft.
- Load sheet for the flight deck containing all necessary flight and load control related information, such as weight conditions (e.g. take-off, landing and zero fuel weight, etc.), passenger and baggage information, balance (or trim) conditions and of course information about special load items (e.g. dangerous good).
So let us take a closer look on how digitalized support for the ramp agent load control activities via mobile devices might look like.
Remote access though Load Control mobility solutions
A Load Control mobile solution should be designed for mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets. It shall allow the ramp agent to simultaneously and remotely update directly from the apron the latest load information into the core Load Control system of the load controller.
The remote access via mobile devices to the core system (located in one or more centralized Global Load Control Centers any part of the world or in any decentralized Load Control stations) from my point of view should be therefore a standard feature of any state-of-the-art load control application. This is especially necessary because several stakeholders, such as load controller, cargo agent, baggage, ramp agent, ramp supervisor, etc. are involved in the Load Control process. Location-wise load controllers usually work somewhere centralized in a Global Load Control Center whereas ramp agents work decentralized on-site in any part of the world.
Which business requirements shall be met by a mobile solution?
A mobile solution for a ramp agent in Load Control shall – among other features – provide the following basics:
- Access to necessary flight leg information
- Provide workflow transparency and support
- Access to (relevant) documents
- Provide leg handling options (for instance update of baggage and ULD numbers, etc.)
- Allow interaction and communication
The reality on today’s Load Control ramp activities?
Generally speaking among all executed ramp processes Load Control is far out the most digitalized operational ground operations process to be found among airlines. But still there is unfortunately a big chance to bump into well-known airlines that despite working with sophisticated, fully automated Weight & Balance systems, still execute their ramp Load Control activities with paper, clipboards, pen and walkie-talkies or (old style) mobile phones. This “prehistoric” condition with all the respect does not seem to me comprehensible – as the benefits of a ramp remote access in Load Control are very obvious.
Benefits of a mobile solution in Load Control
The operational benefits of remote access in Load Control can be summarized as this:
- Immediate start of Load Control activities without big preparation (such as going to the office and getting the necessary papers)
- Visualization of load data to all relevant ramp personnel
- Option to simultaneously update the system directly from the apron
- Relief of load controller from updating apron data (so he can focus on irreg handling)
- Transparency for load controller about the physical loading progress (by monitoring the “physically loaded” status)
- Minimization of error rates (by omitting repetitive manual inputs and misunderstandings in phone calls)
- Better operational stability with full workflow transparency and immediate access to all relevant data
But there are also other important business benefits:
- Introduction of paperless ramp operations (for centralized load control)
- Productivity improvement for both – load controller in the back-office and the ramp agent – due to omit of time-consuming calls and paperwork
- Provision of easy and cost-efficient IT deployment
- Easy and fast training of staff (as ramp personnel has a high labor turnover rate)
Mobility is not a future feature – it is already “now and here”
Above mentioned benefits speak for themselves. Besides this there is another more pragmatic argument more focusing on the users, that sometimes are against the “new technology on the ramp”: the ramp agents themselves: We all know, that probably everybody of us – and the ramp agents as well – nowadays use a smartphone or tablet for his/her private use. That is why I sometimes cannot understand the objections about the digitalization on the ramp: Who wants to walk somewhere to fetch a load plan printout and walk around “old-fashioned” with paper, clipboard and pen, if he simply can push a button having the same result (on his/her mobile device)? Nothing else is done in private life, if you pay your bill via an internet bank transfer, instead of going personally to the bank and fill out manually a bank transfer form.