Intuitive GSE for the restart

Written by: Alwyn Brice |
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After appearing on a Big Debate panel at GHI’s recent Safety Conference, Kim Meldgaard of Powerstow discusses how equipment innovations might help aviation operators tackle the challenges of heightened performance pressure on strained resources during the restart.

GHI: What were some of the key insights you took from handlers/airlines on their immediate safety challenges during your participation at the Big Debate on ramping up safely during the recent GHI Safety Conference?

Meldgaard: “We heard how management teams face increased pressure from stakeholders/customers demanding even lower costs and faster turnaround activity to recover lost earnings combined with the challenges of restarting ramp operations within a short time frame. Pressure has been transferred to the ramp with highly reduced staff or staff returning out of practice, missing skills and training. The lack of valuable knowledge due to experienced people not returning as their job situation has changed during lay-off or new staff joining with no experience also causes challenges. In addition, new procedures have been introduced to work in a Covid world and there are also high concerns about the level of flights equal to the level of human resources and GSE.

“Besides Covid related matters, many of those challenges were also known before, but have just got an extra ‘twist’. For instance, the level of stress factor that can influence working behaviour around and inside an aircraft during high pressure situations.”

GHI: What do you see as the biggest risk factors facing ground handlers during a restart to operations this summer and how might GSE help?

Meldgaard: “I’d echo the risk factors as already described above, but especially getting experienced employees back on the ramp or integrating new employees to understand the working environment and procedures that ensure a safe turnaround. We know from experience that the use of the right GSE can influence a company’s bottom line. Simple intuitive operation with a much higher level of automation will help operators to cope with the work load, increase efficiency and it offers a solution for challenging working conditions. A mental surplus helps to prevent damages.”

GHI: Much focus has been on digitisation/automation as a potential antidote to the hostile operating circumstances on the ramp/stations caused by Covid – what’s your view on automation as a business solution for handlers?

Meldgaard: “For us, as a GSE manufacturer, it is crucial to understand the challenges that an individual handler, airport or airline is facing and help provide workable solutions for those issues. This is also how the Rollertrack Conveyor and the Transfer Belt have been developed and introduced to the market. The Rollertrack Conveyor was developed in order to improve the working conditions of ramp agents inside the aircraft, enhance efficiency and reduce turnaround times, as well as minimise damage to aircraft and baggage/cargo. Our semi-automatic loading/offloading method offers a much easier, quicker and reliable handling procedure compared to manual handling. In the past there have been various new ideas for automation in the industry, I believe in the combination of automation and human factor. Health and safety on the ramp alongside more and more vulnerable aircraft types of tomorrow (composite) and a potential lack of workforce will carry automation forward.”

GHI: What new product innovations are Power Stow planning as a result of the changed operating conditions caused by Covid and how are you working with customers to understand the constraints of the new normal?

Meldgard: “We have always been working in close collaboration with our customers and we constantly seek to understand their challenges in all situations. Covid also brought plenty of new challenges to airport operations that we didn’t have before. One of these is social distancing, which must be also practised in confined areas like aircraft holds. Basically, our extendable beltloader has been designed to ensure social distancing since we launched it in 2004, as there is only one operator needed inside the hold and one outside.

“And as an example, this was an issue that had to be solved for a major UK operator last year when internal Covid restrictions made it problematic to handle belly loads in the conventional way. Investing in Rolletracks for their operation turned out to be a game changer and will benefit their operations for many years to come. New innovations are on the way and we are continuously working on improvements and new solutions that add value to ground handling operations and help to improve our clients´ businesses.”

GHI: Cargo has been a major theme of the pandemic with aircraft being adapted to carry more freight – what GSE innovations/adaptions do you expect to cater for this changed business demand?

Meldgaard: “It’s impressive how the cargo market has developed and expectations for the future are quite high. We have for many years been supporting cargo operators and experience only growing demand for our innovative solutions. My impression is that some cargo operators have mainly been focusing on upper deck ULDs, but realised that with the high increase of volume, the belly compartment is just getting more and more profitable and vital for on-time performance. With the use of the Rollertrack Conveyor system, handlers can assure fast TA, optimal use of resources and reduce injuries. Furthermore, our system is ground-based, therefore operators can avoid using expensive on-board loading systems inside narrow-body aircraft. Carrying a lot of dead weight only increases fuel costs and occupies space, which could have been used for transporting profit-making cargo instead.

“We are continually working on additional features on the Rollertrack system to improve efficiency and make the handling process even more convenient for operators when handling packages, mailbags or other types of bulk cargo. It has been very interesting to see pax airlines with much creativity turning pax flights into cargo carriers. A huge help for all through rough times, but hopefully soon we will get the passengers back in the seats, and baggage/cargo down under into the cargo hold.”

GHI: Can you tell us a little more about how the Rollertrack/Transfer Belt have had a positive impact on employee safety and also how they have led to productivity improvements for operators?

Meldgaard: “At Power Stow we are dedicated and specialised in a few product groups. We are constantly striving to better understand the new tomorrow and at the same time improve our existing systems so they live up to the present standards and market demands. Both the Rollertrack Conveyor system as well as the Transfer Belt has been developed with a focus on improving health and safety issues by significantly reducing the strain on the operators compared to the traditional ways of handling bags and cargo. Avoiding heavy lifting and incorrect working positions and at same time also being able to improve productivity is a part of our DNA. Customer cases have proven that the Rollertrack Conveyor have helped to reduce body injuries with more than 50%, as well as reducing damage to baggage/cargo and aircraft. Furthermore, current customers unload and load 25-30% faster with the Rollertrack system versus conventional belt loaders.

“The Transfer Belt offers fast, safe and easy unloading of bags and cargo. It is intuitive and provides an ergonomic solution that eliminates heavy twisting and lifting movements. The unit also has been able to improve capacity on existing arrival belts by more than 30% by the use of only one operator. Our solutions help baggage handlers enjoy longer and healthier careers while being more productive.”

GHI: Finally, while GSE automation is in vogue, many operations are struggling to find the investment capital to take advantage given the lack of pax flights in the sky. How can the GSE community work with users to prevent the opportunity being missed?

Meldgaard: “It has been incredibly hard times for this industry and it seems that this will be the case for some time yet, but for sure pax flights will return to the sky. Quoting our Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen: ‘to travel is to live’, and my personal feeling is that travel will be boosted again when people trust that they can travel freely without serious restrictions. Just look at the number of new airlines starting up now. GSE community and users should have a common interest in finding workable solutions on how to proceed for the benefit of both, so stakeholder collaboration is key.

“At Power Stow we try to understand, but also challenge clients about how they can restart their businesses, and especially what kind of business they want to have in the future. We analyse and propose solutions on how we can help them to optimise and use their resources in the best possible way, how they can retain valuable employees and also be able to attract new employees, as well as creating a safe and profitable operation by using semi-automated GSE equipment. The decisions that handlers, airports and airlines are making today during restart can highly influence their future operation. Last year we introduced our flexible rental programme, which is one of our solutions to the uncertainty that our customers are facing. This ‘rental to buy’ concept supports clients who might do not wish to own the equipment from day one, but still would like to take advantage of all benefits that our Rollertrack system offers.”

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