Guiding the ULD market through turbulence


In an increasingly competitive ULD market, Unilode has positioned itself as a main player with its fleet of 160,000 ULDs and the world’s largest maintenance and repair network for ULDs and galley carts. Continuously striving for improvement and growing through investment in its people, technology, assets and infrastructure, the company has strengthened its foothold in key markets.

“We place a high value on customer centricity, flexibility, partnership and being close to our customers. We understand their needs beyond ULD management and offer opportunities to enable them to improve their efficiencies and increase revenues. We pride ourselves on being the market leader in ULD digitalisation, and that opens new opportunities in the aviation logistics value chain,” Ross Marino, CEO of Unilode, said.

This focus on increasing the company’s presence in thriving regions was evident in 2022, as Unilode announced it was expanding its ULD leasing network in Europe and Asia. Having always had “great coverage” in Asia, Europe and the United States, the company’s customers have been provided with strong connectivity.

“We see the need to be more concentrated in emerging markets, such as South America, Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Additional network locations can help not only our full ULD management capability but also provide greater opportunity for our short term ULD rental business,” Marino added.

Combating global imbalance

One of the biggest challenges for companies in the sector has been the global imbalance in the distribution of ULDs. This is created by flights originating from certain locations being filled with containers, while return flights have the opposite approach, leading to an overstock at one site and an understock at others.

As a ULD provider, Unilode accepts that these imbalances will continue to persist due to airlines’ different traffic requirements. However, Unilode’s ULD management customers enjoy the benefits of having access to the world’s largest ULD fleet, helping prevent these problems impacting operations.

“We are able to mitigate, and in most cases, overcome global ULD imbalances thanks to our collaborative partnership approach, proactive planning and the synergy benefits of Unilode’s unique ULD pooling business model,” Marino explained.

Unilode’s Customer Success Managers, supported by its 24/7 Operations Control Centre and Ground Support staff, work closely with its airline customers, and take ULD and aircraft utilisation, freight forwarder and ground handling activities into account to jointly agree on the ULD stocks required for hassle-free operations.

Additionally, Unilode’s maintenance and repair network, extended logistics solutions via road and sea transportation and short-term leasing capability has helped enhance the value proposition of Unilode’s ULD management solution and overcome imbalances.

READ: Pegasus ULD solidifies change in healthcare air freight

Collaborating on digitalisation

Digitalisation has been sweeping through the airfreight industry. As with other sectors, it has a massive impact on ULD management capabilities because it creates tangible business value for Unilode and its customers.

“The airfreight industry should look to the future together in a partnership model and collaboratively work on digitalisation throughout the supply chain including ULDs, track and trace, end customer visibility, and recognise the mission-critical aspects of ULDs for airlines’ operations,” Marino stated.

From Unilode’s perspective, digitalisation is key to achieve real-time visibility across the supply chain. First, the IoT network data helps to get real-time data on ULD movements including information around the conditions of those movements. The IoT data helps Unilode to register shocks accurately that can be related to damage, and temperatures to show which cargo was exposed to too high (or low) temperatures during transportation. But this only works in combination with readers and a digital app that enable employees throughout the value chain to request information and register logistical activities (such as on- loan registration) across the supply chain which significantly reduces paperwork and enables Unilode to improve the end- to-end supply chain by reducing waste.

“In many ways the aviation supply chain is still in its infancy. To know where we could develop we should compare the aviation industry with the fast-moving consumer goods sector, where every unit has an EAN code, and is automatically registered through the whole supply chain. We should bring these learnings and improvements one-to-one over to our air cargo supply chain to ensure we create maximum value for customers,” Marino added.

Through the integration of its Bluetooth tags, covering 90% of its fleet, Unilode is able to secure data that provides location, shock, movement detection and temperature information. “We integrate our Bluetooth tags on the pallets through a small carve-out in the edge rail where we fasten the tag with screws so that it cannot become detached from the pallet even under harsh operating conditions,” Marino said.

READ: Gulf Air extends its partnership with Unilode for another 10-year term

The next step for the ULD sector

In January, Unilode announced that it has extended its partnership with Gulf Air for another 10-year term. This followed a November renewal of the ULD provider’s partnership with Cathay Pacific until 2027.Thesepartnerships don’t just boost Unilode’s success, they allow it to improve operations in the sector, looking into enhancing efficiency.

As the airfreight industry returns to pre-pandemic levels, Unilode wants to enable airlines to concentrate on their core business whilst allowing its expertise to drive optimisation opportunities and efficiencies in a new world. The ULD provider sees the rebounding airfreight market as an opportunity to collaboratively work with its customers to determine new best practices and new approaches.

“We have a very positive outlook and an ambitious strategy for the next five years. We will continue strengthening our core business of ULD management and ULD and galley cart MRO services, focus on enhancing our customer centricity, sustainability and technology, and invest in our growth plans as we are confident these measures will further increase the value we provide to our customers and our people,” Marino concluded.