Balancing act for BA

posted on 6th June 2018

The relocation of British Airways to Terminal 5 presented its cargo division with some major challenges, not least the limited space to park equipment, vehicles and cargo dollies.

British Airways World Cargo (BAWC) has used the GS RealTime technology developed by German company Inform since 1999, following the opening of the Ascentis cargo handling facility at Heathrow’s Terminal 4. Called ‘Alerts’ by British Airways, the system manages the movement of freight between the cargo facilities and the aircraft, and its use was later extended to include Terminals 1, 2 and 3, and now supports the entire British Airways World Cargo operation at London Heathrow.

BAWC faced major changes as a result of the migration of BA’s passenger business to Terminal 5, which began in 2008. Despite the enormous size of Terminal 5, space for parking equipment, vehicles and cargo dollies was finite. Dedicated space was created to park empty dollies in parking bays at specific T5 stands. Known as Stand Holding Areas (SHAs), these parking bays need to be strictly managed. There are 150 SHAs spread over 60 aircraft stands in T5. However, 26 of these stands do not have any SHAs and dollies are not permitted to be on stand unless an aircraft arrival or departure is being serviced.

An upgrade to the existing Alerts system was seen as the logical way to effectively resolve and manage this issue. The ‘Dolly Balancing’ feature was introduced to ensure that the optimum number of empty cargo dolly trains is on stand to service the British Airways aircraft fleet and to ensure that punctuality and customer delivery targets are met. Dolly Balancing also manages and maintains the overall stock count of dollies across terminals and associated holding areas for British Airways.

“The introduction of Dolly Balancing was crucial to our operation, because managing the critical positioning of our dolly stock was integral to our move into T5,” says Sunny Ahmed, airport logistics manager for British Airways World Cargo.

The main elements of dolly balancing include the overnight inventory, pre-positioning, and daytime operational dolly balancing. The overnight inventory is a stock check of dollies left at T5 at the end of the operational day. Pre-positioning covers the physical movement and stock of all 150 SHAs at T5, with all dollies ready for the next day’s start-up.

Daily Dolly Balancing tasks are included in daytime operational dolly balancing and are established by the Alerts system; drivers may therefore be asked to move empty dolly trains between stands or from Ascentis to T5 and vice versa. With each arrival, Alerts determines how many empty cargo dolly trains are required to unload the aircraft. The system also uses the overnight inventory to take into account any trains that have already been placed in the SHAs.

For flight departures, Alerts knows how many departure trains are available from cargo and how many empty SHAs (if any) are available on stand. Once all the outbound cargo has been loaded on the aircraft, Alerts will task a driver to remove any excess empty trains from the stand as required. Remote Data Terminal equipment installed in the vehicles allows for automated, accurate and fast communication between Alerts and the drivers.

The Alerts system also optimises the tug assignment in order to minimise travel time and dead legs, to reduce the number of tugs and staff required and to guarantee service levels at the same time. The real-time dock assignment is also optimized, meaning dock usage is maximised, while staff and freight idling time is kept to a minimum.