Centralised load control systems (CLC) offer several benefits to airlines, and a new data sharing platform currently in development by IATA could take them to the next level
Noting that an airline’s main focus is on providing a quality service to its customers while achieving better margins, a spokesperson for Global Load Control (GLC – part of the Lufthansa Group), says that finding organisations that dedicate all their resources to addressing indirect activities like load control is a way for airlines to reduce costs and risk impact to their core business.
Furthermore: “Centralised models for load control better respond to the immediate needs of operations of an airline while using data flows to understand the opportunities for improvement in cost and risk and guide managers’ decisions.”
The GLC spokesperson goes on: “Cost saving and risk mitigation being the most apparent [benefits], the cost aspect can be cascaded into areas such as labour, infrastructural and optimisation opportunity cost. The risks are mitigated by passing it on to an expert of that specific process with robust business contingencies and certification practices.
“What surprises most of our customers is how a greater operational stability is passed on to the airline – and this needs a centralised platform to oversee and conduct the necessary process discipline required to drive the expected efficiencies and standardisation to get the full value of the model.”
Nick Yeadon, CEO of Air Dispatch CLC (part of the dnata group), believes the advantages of CLC boil down to two things beyond cost saving: safety and quality.
“With a manual approach to load control you have lots of different interpretations; for instance with an aircraft flying from a hub to an outstation you might load the baggage in the forward and rear, which means two high loaders would be required. At the hub at peak time you might have a single unloading team, or there might only be one high loader available, slowing down the baggage delivery and transfer times; the CLC can plan for the baggage to be in single hold, speeding up the hub operation.
“One process, with all outstations complying, is better. Compliance with airline policy is better enforced through CLC; it also enables more monitoring of staff and processes,” he points out.
Training for load control is onerous, and process failure or human error can still occur. Open reporting of all such incidents leads to improvements – and airlines with CLC have access to a great deal of information in this respect as safety report rates are higher. Plus, training needs are reduced, helping to save an airline money.
Yeadon goes on: “Traditionally, Tier 1 airlines have gone for these systems but more and more are using them – including regional airlines and low-cost carriers.
“Some airlines that in-source the product (that is, use their own staff to run it) are looking at outsourcing it now so they can concentrate on their core business,” he says, echoing the GLC spokesperson.
Currently, there is a small number of dedicated suppliers of CLC, with a few newer ones on the edge of the market. It is a relatively new service that has come about with the advancement of IT, and adoption of this way of working is increasing fast.
“It’s a big change and people don’t want to just jump into it,” Yeadon remarks. “Shifting to centralised load control may mean asking staff for a process change that doesn’t directly benefit them but globally, it will benefit the whole process, providing greater transparency. But airlines want to make the change, so it is starting to happen.”
The International Air Transport Association’s (IATA’s) Weight & Balance Information Centre (WBIC) constitutes an important step in efforts to move the industry forward.
In a nutshell, WBIC seeks to address the challenges of entering, maintaining and distributing AHM565 data (aircraft data for weights and balance) by consolidating reliable data in one location and format using cloud technology in order to deliver time and cost savings through the elimination of inefficient data distribution.
Through WBIC, an airline will be able to update data pertaining to a particular aircraft in one place and make it available to its service providers anywhere in the world where that aircraft is operating, outlines Steve Savage, senior analyst – ground operations, airport, passenger, cargo and security (APCS) at IATA. WBIC will thus provide the data that feeds CLC.
Massimo Cicetti, manager, ground operation standards, APCS (also at IATA), explains further: “Currently paper documents are used to share data between aircraft manufacturers, airlines and system providers. WBIC is a platform for all this data that will be safe and straightforward.”
The concept started in September 2016 at the LCAM (IATA’s Load Control and Aircraft Messaging task force) meeting. Launch of the platform will hopefully take place in late 2018 or early 2019.
Cicetti says: “WBIC will improve safety. This is a huge benefit. For instance, it will be possible to certify data through the platform to avoid incorrect MTOW (maximum take-off weight).
“The project will also simplify, streamline and render more efficient the process of load control, by moving it from manual to electronic methods. The aim is to implement one standard through one platform instead of numerous spreadsheets – so complex calculations can be done in real time with no delays.
“WBIC is a fascinating, useful and imaginative new idea,” Yeadon considers. “This is part of the changes happening in weight and balance, which used to be a dusty area but is becoming a focus now. The development of IT has allowed this as CLC can deal with more complex calculations and separations these days – but there is a need for detailed data.
“WBIC brings a lot of information into one place. It’s not likely to be attractive to Tier I airlines, but Tier II or III carriers that are leasing an aircraft for the summer or buying an aircraft from another carrier don’t necessarily have their own weight and balance engineers, so they buy that service in. You need fewer engineers if you run CLC,” he points out.
The GLC spokesperson adds that aviation has adopted automation in many areas of its value chain, and the distinction between what can be system run and what needs human problem solving is becoming blurred.
Still: “Skilled staff are the eyes and ears of the CLC. They need to be aware of weight and balance and the implications of getting it wrong,” Yeadon says. “That includes dangerous goods separation, the importance of communicating information to the CLC (a two-way process), and checking that information on the load plan matches the actual loading of the aircraft.”
• Detailed information regarding WBIC may be found at: