Air Cargo is one of the supreme assets of the global economy. As it is getting much crucial also cargo handling getting much complicated at the airports. According to the IATA annual review of 2016: In 2015, freight tonne kilometres expanded 2.3%, and airlines transported 51.5 million metric tons of goods valued at nearly $6 trillion. While we are improving our cargo demand, air cargo operators compete with turnaround time, and it comes with consequences like taking higher risk in ground operations.
IATA regulations getting tighter and tighter every day for smoother ground operations and flight safety. Over 15 GSE equipment requirements updated to reflect enhanced GSE technology to reduce the potential for damaging aircraft on 37th version of IATA Aircraft Handling Manual dated October 2016. Ground Support Equipment manufacturers and operators are familiar with previous safety improvements like “Circle of Safety” which is a manual and passive method to safely approach to an aircraft. In this method operator observes a virtual circle around the aircraft when positioning the motorized vehicles or equipment to an aircraft. All operations are under control of the operator manually. Ground support equipment like high loaders and belt conveyors approaches very closely to the areas of aircraft cargo doors and body parts of the aircraft which consists of composite materials. With the possible impact to these areas it is barely impossible to see the cracks, dents or structural failures under these components. Identifying and evaluating these failures also crucial for the flight safety.
In video of TLD Group-Aircraft Safe Docking System, Mr. Laurent Decoux (Technical Director TLD Group) mentions that direct or indirect damages of GSE to the aircrafts costs 4 Billion USD annually. He also talks about how difficult to detect the impact by naked eye. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZ1HwI885Rg
Regarding to the current standard ISO 6966-2 (Aircraft ground equipment Safety requirements) while approaching to the aircraft, all self-propelled GSE shall be capable of a speed not exceeding 6,0 kmh, to be identified by the “turtle” symbol. In addition to that for final positioning to aircraft the equipment should be capable of a speed not exceeding 0,8 kmh. This part has requested to be automatically handled by the equipment itself. On the other hand it is still possible to reach the inching speed limits with manually pressing a button identified by a “snail” symbol.
IATA AHM 37 also requests from the GSE suppliers to install an equipment like black box when any incident/accident occurs all the impact data must be recorded without moving the equipment. This will help investigators to criticize if aircraft is airworthy or not.
GSE Manufacturers like TLD Group, JBT Aerotech and Timsan-GSE already adapted these systems and introduced to their current customers with different names (Aircraft Safe Docking, Aircraft Proximity Detection, Aircraft Approach System, etc.). Also STW (Sensor-Technik Wiedemann GmbH) announced their system which can be applied to existing and new equipment. This kind of improvements also prevents any time consuming failures.
For the conclusion, IATA safety regulations notwithstanding the reducing of risk factor, it may speed up cargo loading time with the help of automatization. Removing or over helming the human factors could give us “seconds” and “safety” which are of the essence.