Keeping cargo packed in the hold

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Unilode Aviation Solutions CEO, Benoit Dumont

Switzerland-based Unilode owns and manages approximately 130,000 ULDs for more than 40 airline customers across a global network of 480 airports and 50 repair centres.

It offers asset management and repair services for ULDs and ground support equipment. According to Unilode CEO Benoît Dumont, the company enjoys good relationships with ULD manufacturers.

He says: “Unilode owns the largest ULD fleet in the industry and has excellent relationship with the main OEMS. In addition to being the biggest ULD buyer, Unilode owns and operates the world’s largest ULD repair network with more than 450,000 ULD work orders completed each year. This enables Unilode to provide manufacturers with valuable data and reports that help them work on any weak points identified in their ULDs for their further analysis and improvement of the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of these assets.”

The company was rebranded from CHEP to Unilode in February 2017, following the change in the company’s ownership.

Dumont says: “The rebranding went smoothly, the reaction both from the industry and our people was very positive, and the brand image is strong. Unilode’s key values of being a personable, reliable, expert and innovative company have not changed and continue to guide us in building long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with our customers and partners.”

A ULD management agreement is always an exclusive relationship due to the nature of the business as the airline’s ULDs are sold to the ULD management company and then managed in its network.

When new equipment needs to be purchased, either because of the aircraft fleet growth of the airline or to replace old units, Unilode buys the containers and pallets from the manufacturers, meaning the airline does not need to buy equipment.

Unilode won the inaugural IATA Air Cargo Innovation Award with its ULD track and trace solution called CanTrack in 2015, which became a catalyst for the development of digital ULDs in the industry.

Dumont says: “Since then, Unilode has heavily invested in its digital transformation project which will further strengthen Unilode’s value proposition. More than 40 airlines have already contacted Unilode to obtain more information on the digital ULD project, which we believe, is the best solution offered to the market. Safety is a key consideration and Unilode’s solution is fully compliant with all regulatory requirements in addition to being certified by OEMs and aviation authorities.

“Unilode works in collaboration with OnAsset, the industry leader in real-time asset tracking, and a leading IoT company, for the development of the digital ULD solution, which is based on the 5.0 version of BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) technology, leverages mobile devices which can act as a reader, and with the help of an app makes the ULD track & trace features immediately operational. Unilode has partnered with Zodiac Aerospace to design the form factor for the pallets which has resulted in the tag being fully integrated into the corner piece, which is much better than a bolt-on device.”

A number of field trials have been conducted with Unilode’s airline customers including Cathay Pacific and Air Canada, where the solution was tested in operational environments on the ground and in flight. Unilode’s aim is to equip its entire ULD fleet with the digital track and trace tags that will be a game changer in the industry.”

Dumont describes Cathay Pacific as “a modern, innovative and forward-looking airline” and it is Unilode’s largest ULD management customer.

“Our partnership enables both parties to actively collaborate in innovation projects, including Unilode’s next generation ULD track and trace solution, which included our recently concluded successful field trial at the Cathay Pacific Cargo Terminal in Hong Kong. The next phase, where actual shipments are being tracked with Unilode’s new BLE5 tags, is currently underway.” he says.

Unilode works with its airline customers to conduct field tests, which enable Unilode to test the solution, gather feedback from the users and make improvements as needed.

Unilode’s digital solution will be offered to all its airline customers, regardless of their participation in field trials. Unilode’s ULD management agreements contain exit clauses and a customer can terminate the relationship even before the contract ends.

Unilode is very proud of its loyal customer base. The company has very long partnerships with several airlines with ULD management agreements renewed multiple times. Just to name a few examples, AirBridgeCargo has been partnering with Unilode since its operations started in 2004, and Cargolux and AirAsia X signed their respective ULD management agreements with Unilode in 2009.

Unilode has efficiently supported these airlines’ growth over the years with ULD management solutions for the mutual benefit of both parties.

Dumont says: “The change of ULD decals is a long process as this is carried out when the container is taken out of service for repair. The majority of Unilode’s existing ULDs have already been rebranded and new containers are delivered with our sharp new logo. GHAs are well aware that both CHEP and Unilode branded ULDs belong to Unilode and the visual difference in the ULD branding does not cause any operational issues.”

When Unilode signs a ULD management agreement with an airline that already has a ULD fleet, the serviceable containers and pallets of the airline will be rebranded and integrated into Unilode’s ULD fleet which is identified with IATA code R7.

The unserviceable ULDs are scrapped within Unilode’s repair network. Serviceable excess units, if any, are re-utilised elsewhere in Unilode’s ever-expanding network.