Why using Mobility Solutions in Load Control?

Mobility is one of the areas with a great impact on the IT industry. Let´s have a look of how this trend changed over the airline core business process Load Control.

 

Mobility is one of the areas with a great impact on the IT-industry. Re-mote access to core applications is an integral part of application development nowadays. Especially if more stakeholders are involved in a business process – as this is the case within airlines operating a Centralized Load Control: Load Controllers usually work somewhere centralized in a Global Load Control Center whereas Ramp Agents de-centralized on-site.

Let´s have a look of how this trend changed over the airline core business process Load Control. My assessment for “Re-mote access in Airline Load Control”: Rather less to not at all existent. According to my experience one might find even among well-known airlines working with sophisticated, fully automated Weight & Balance systems, a Load Control process on the ramp side still remains a sort of “pre-historic”. Meaning: Ramp Agents are doing their work with paper, clipboards and pen in combination with using walky-talkies and (old style) mobile phones.

Looking on how highly digitalized and mobile the “Passenger Experience” at almost every airline has become, you could come to the conclusion, that the load control activities on the ramp have “overslept” this important trend. It is neither my objective to make finger pointing nor to speculate here about the reasons. I rather would like to spend some thoughts about the benefits and requirements for a ramp re-mote access in Load Control, because it must be very clear: Mobile solutions for Load Control support on the ramp are just a matter of time.

What is a mobile solution in Load Control?

A Load Control mobile solution is designed for mobile devices such as smartphones or tablet, allowing the Ramp Agent to simultaneously update the core load control system utilized by the Load Controller directly from the apron with the latest load information.

What are the benefits of a load control mobile solutions:

From a business and operational point of view I see the following benefits:

  • Allows Ramp Agent to immediately start load control activities without big preparation
  • Provides immediate visibility & visualization of load data to all ramp personnel
  • Give Ramp Agent option to simultaneously update the system directly from the apron
  • Reliefs Load Controller from updating data, so he can focus in “management by exception”
  • Provides Load Controller transparency about loading progress
  • Makes the Load control process is more efficient and less error-prone.
  • Allow paperless ramp operations for centralized load control
  • Increases productivity due to omit of time consuming calls and paperwork
  • Improves operational stability with full workflow transparency
  • Provides easy and cost-efficient deployment
  • Eliminate archiving of paper documents

Which business requirements shall be met by a mobile solution?

A mobile solution 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
  • Allow Interaction and Communication
  • (….)

In the following I would like to give a more detailed inside about three selected topics from above:

Provide workflow transparency and support for the Ramp

As the ramp agent works re-mote from the Load Controllers point of view – the Load Controller also works remote from the Ramp Agent perspective. For an efficient ramp handling therefore I recommend that mobile Load Control solutions should give transparency about the current load control workflow status for ramp relevant tasks such as:

  • Cargo department finished its activities
  • Loading Instruction is ready or updated
  • All Bags / All ULDs are physically loaded
  • Load sheet is issued or updated (and flight will be closed)

On top the visualization of the loading process progress (“X% loaded”) will give the Ramp Agent transparency about the physical loading process.

What are the benefits? Workflow transparency will help the Ramp Agent to minimize / avoid load control (and loading) related delays and therefore costs. Moreover - in case of he is in charge of more than one flight at the same time – he can monitor simultaneously the other flights. At the current status of all flights is always available on his smartphone or tablet display.

Provide Leg Handling Options

The remote access to the Load Control Core system in order to retrieve and update relevant Load Data is probably one of the main objectives why nowadays airlines are moving away towards a digitalized Load Control solution on the ramp.

To avoid such time consuming update routines by calls a load control mobile solution may allow the ramp agent to update information, such as

  • ULD numbers
  • Cargo / Baggage/ Mail Weights
  • Baggage numbers
  • Special Load or Dangerous Goods
  • (…)

This might include not only the editing but also the adding and deleting of load items as well as swapping load items. Here two things are very important:

  • There must be a notification mechanism implemented enabling the Load Controller to track all changes made.
  • It is important that the core system and mobile solution together support role-based user concepts with configurable user rights and roles to execute specifically assigned tasks.

Allow Interaction and Communication:

So far the use of mobile phones and walky-talkies is still widely spread among Ramp Agents to communicate with the Load Controllers. These might be time-consuming in many situations. A phone call in this operational situation usually brings only two people on the same page. What about other stakeholders – for instance the Cargo Agent?

Direct communication with all involved stakeholders is a prerequisite for an efficient load control process. As we are all familiar with “what’s app” and group chats, I suggest such a chat functionality with all involved stakeholders to avoid time consuming calls (probably also disturbed by the noise of aircraft engines) for easy information exchange. The result: Every stakeholder (Load Controller, Ramp Agent, Cargo Agent, and Gate Agent) stays on the same page. Time consuming bilateral phone calls will be omitted.

Outlook – what else is possible?

Integrating additional smartphone and tablet features into this concept, further process and communication improvements between Load Controller and Ramp Agent are just on simply one step away:

  • Use of standardized text modules to avoid redundant typing
  • Sending of Audio Files (similar to what´s app)
  • Translating Voice into Text
  • Documentation of loading compliance by shooting pictures / movies with camera
  • Introduce near field communication

On the business process side, the scope extension towards of other Ramp Agent related activities towards a fully Paperless Ramp (e.g. including Turnaround Management, Fueling, (Transfer-)Baggage and Transfer Passenger Management) is the next level within ramp mobility solutions.

Mobility Solutions are not a future outlook anymore – they happen now!

Last but not least a very simple, but strong argument for the utilization of Load Control mobile solutions on the ramp: We all know, that probably every Ramp Agent nowadays uses a smartphone or tablet as a private person. This allows me the prediction, that changes of processes and tools here will rather be welcomed by the end-users, than refused. Because: 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 mobile device)?

This was just an initial approach about remote access in Load Control by digitalizing the load control activities on the ramp. The concept of a fully “Paperless Ramp” and “Load Control solutions for Cockpit” shall be a topics of my following blogs.

I am looking forward to reading your comments about this blog!

Michael Muzik

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