Independent service provider Mercury ULD, based in Hong Kong, has entered the market at a time when the industry is booming but becoming increasingly competitive. The company looks to offer ULD leasing services to help airlines overcome the challenge of ULD imbalance.
“Since our establishment in early 2022, we have launched our short-term leasing services…Although we are a new name in the industry, all our staffs are experienced in managing ULD fleets for a number of the world’s largest airlines and are familiar with cargo operations,” Kenneth Poon, General Manager of Mercury ULD, stated.
“Hong Kong has always been a major cargo hub in the world; it is a market that we are familiar with. We see Hong Kong as our base and reaching out to other opportunities around the world,” Poon said, explaining the decision to launch in the Far East region.
Mercury ULD has PMC, PGA pallets available in the region with a plan to offer other types of ULDs to fit requests from those in the airfreight industry. Its leasing services look to be simple and flexible, with deliveries being made at short notice to solve ad-hoc operation requirements swiftly. Similarly, Mercury ULD offers cargo nets, tie-down straps, spreader boards and more for airfreight, ensuring it can meet the needs of clients at any given time through its wide array of products.
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With the airfreight market growing, there is rising demand for ULDs to protect cargo and keep planes safe. While this brings opportunity for companies, it also means there has been an influx of competition into the sector. It’s something that Poon cites as a challenge for a new entrant into the ULD sector: “This is a very competitive market and being dominated by several service providers that have been there for a long time.”
However, Mercury ULD has a plan in place for standing out in a crowded field, looking for the specific markets that they see as ripe for the picking. “We see airlines/carriers are looking for customisation solutions and more flexibility that allow them to do things differently and agilely,” Poon said. “Short term leasing is our first service that have launched. We are exploring opportunities in maintenance services where it allows us to support our operations. Our short- to medium-term strategy is to build our network on a global scale to combat in the market.”
Beyond competition though, one of the biggest challenges a company has to be able to face in order to appeal to potential customers and fulfil the needs of existing clients is addressing the imbalance in the global ULD fleet, with places like the US often having a surplus, while Asian nations have a shortage. “There is a lot of consistent planning and communication required. To keep it short, we need to uplift the surplus ULD to other online stations where there is less surplus inventory before returning to Asia; this could also be done through collaboration with other carriers,” Poon said.
Digitalisation and visibility
Digitalisation is something that is spreading throughout the airfreight sector, and other industries globally, as companies look to use technology to streamline their services and improve efficiency. This is no different for Mercury ULD, which expects to see an increase in the use of automated loading systems, which could be enhanced by the growth of artificial intelligence.
“The AI will learn how to handle cargo in different dimensions, weights, and shapes. I can also imagine robots replacing labour in future to build-up and breakdown of cargo. We are exploring replacing human inspection by performing inspection on ULD in an MRO through 3D and AI technologies,” Poon highlighted.
“We want to assist the customer to minimise the time to deal with all the administration work and focus on their operational issues. We have developed our own management system where our customers would be able to login to our system and check the history of their records. All our transactions are paperless. The system would be able to send out transaction records by API upon the request by the customer. On the other hand, we are looking into technologies that enable our customers to track leasing units using their track and trace devices,” he continued.
The expansion of digitalisation in the airfreight industry and at Mercury ULD is helping to fulfil the desire of customers to be able to track cargo throughout the entire supply chain. “It is important to be visible on the supply chain. Part of increase supply chain visibility means having sufficient data, information and analysis before making certain decisions,” Poon said. “That’s why we think it is important that we establish close collaborate relationship with our vendors and having transparent and honest communication with them to understand what is going on.”
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Although Mercury ULD only began operations last year, the company is already excited to be looking at opportunities to grow, capitalising on the demand seen at other major cargo hubs in Asia and Europe.
“We are based in Hong Kong, but we also have operations centre setup in Europe to serve our customers in Europe and North America,” Poon explained.
Despite the increase in demand for airfreight operations, the overall climate is challenging with Poon accepting that “inflation is going to play a big part in global economies in the next two to three years.” This is not an issue limited to Mercury ULD but, like others in the industry, the company “will not be able to get away from this issue.”
“In Mercury ULD, we are in constant communication with our partners, as we feel it is important to understand each others’ plan and to work together to minimise unnecessary cost due to ad-hoc requests and demands,” he added. “We want Mercury to be able to provide variety services in major cargo hubs around the world. These services are to be delivered using different types of technologies to minimise manual work, to increase efficiency of our agents and customers.”