Even today, it still surprises me that some people have a preconceived assumption about the work of baggage handlers in airports. The presumption is that, below ground, luggage is somehow thrown around in a haphazard way, with no regard for its destination or contents. In fact, the reality couldn’t be more different.
At a time when passenger numbers are growing faster than ever, there’s increasing pressure on airports to maintain high performance levels when it comes to baggage. Creating a safe, ergonomic environment for staff is also high on the agenda.
The image of careless baggage handling is outdated and simply not realistic. If anything, the aviation industry is demanding innovative solutions to improve its performance when it comes to flight make-up environments.
That’s why we developed our manual loading aid – STACK@EASE – with the aim of putting people’s wellbeing first. This mainly applies to ergonomics, with the intention of reducing the risk of baggage handlers suffering long-term injuries.
In general, flight make-up is one of the toughest spots in the baggage system, with items sometimes weighing up to 50kg. STACK@EASE is highly flexible and allows operators to load containers (ULDs) productively. It also minimises their physical workload, which significantly reduces the risk of injury.
A number of alternative lifting aids exist, for example vacuum systems. These use a vacuum tube that grips and lifts the bag. One of the main disadvantages of this technology is that it only requires one arm to operate. This means that users will always favour their stronger arm, which puts asymmetrical stress on one side of the body.
In addition, the vacuum system is not effective in dealing with all bag types. Certain pieces of luggage will simply drop off and fall to the ground! Other alternatives include hooks that descend from the ceiling, but these can also cause unwanted damage to bags by removing straps and handles.
What we have found is that other baggage loading systems might be equally fast, but often lack the precision of STACK@EASE.
Airports of all sizes have different requirements when it comes to improving their flight make-up operations. However, despite the different technologies on offer, one challenge remains above all others: getting operators to embrace – and use – manual loading aids.
This is especially true when operators have been used to working in a specific way for many years. I appreciate that, for anyone in any line of work, it can be uncomfortable to do things differently. Reverting to old ways is often inevitable. In the aviation industry, I believe we’re on the cusp of a culture change, but this won’t happen overnight.
Recently, we created a unique solution for Hong Kong International Airport. The use of integrated RFID greatly speeds up the process, enhances the reading accuracy and encourages operators to use STACK@EASE.
It enables ground handlers to easily load baggage from the laterals to the containers safely, with minimal effort. This reduces the risk of strain and other injuries, and has a long-term benefit on a handler’s wellbeing.
Having more women working in the baggage hall has also been an unexpected benefit for Hong Kong. The expansion of the labour pool is one of the additional – and unforeseen – advantages of having introduced STACK@EASE.
Although we’re happy with our progress so far, we want to continuously improve the functionality of STACK@EASE in our User Experience (UX) department. As market demands increase, I believe STACK@EASE will become even lighter and easier to use in dynamic situations. After all, making it smoother will save operators even more energy.
What I like about STACK@EASE is that it also aligns with Vanderlande’s own vision on sustainability. We not only take care of our own people but also our customers, for whom we want to continually add value.
I would challenge airports to join us in a dialogue about STACK@EASE, because every site is unique. They can help us to develop our technologies even further so that we can continue to deliver the best possible baggage handling solutions.