LATAM Cargo is getting a better grip on its cargo as ULD provider Unilode, which manages the airline’s ULD pool, is equipping the fleet with Bluetooth tags to keep track of them at any time.

“Unilode’s digitalisation programme will provide LATAM with opportunities to enhance our product offering by improving visibility and adding features such as temperature monitoring of the tracking devices fitted to our containers and pallets,” said LATAM Cargo CEO Andrés Bianchi.

Monitoring ambient shipment conditions is of major interest for the airline. According to Mr Bianchi, perishables account for about 50% of its volume.

It has also ramped up its profile in the pharmaceutical arena and obtained CEIV accreditation.

Both sectors have been going strong for LATAM Cargo: in pharmaceuticals, it has enjoyed double-digit growth in recent years; while perishables traffic has been growing, with exports to Asia a factor of increasing prominence. Unlike general cargo, most perishables markets have been either stable or shown growth this year, Mr Bianchi said.

Unilode has been managing LATAM’s ULD contingent since 2016 and opened a bespoke ULD repair centre at the airline’s home base in Santiago. A spokesperson for LATAM reported that the fitting of its containers with the Bluetooth tags should be completed around the first quarter of next year, while the pallets should be done by the first quarter of 2021.

Where a barcode requires staff to point a reader at the label, Bluetooth technology allows operators to manage ULDs without touch, said Unilode CEO Benoit Dumont. This increases visibility and ‘reads’ ULDs in locations that are difficult for staff to access.

Unilode is working to put Bluetooth tags on its entire fleet of over 140,000 units. In the opening phase it is fitting them on pallets and containers of clients that have their own equipment pools. This is more straightforward than with Unilode’s proprietary ULD pool that is shared by multiple clients, as the process of getting the all clear from all these clients takes time.

Mr Dumont reports the approval process is nearly complete. He aims to have 70-80% of the network covered in about 18 months, which should be a good critical mass, he said.

A large number of tests – many involving temperature-sensitive cargo like flowers or pharmaceuticals – have been conducted, all of them successfully, he reported.

While the Bluetooth tags and readers installed on planes and on the ground will give LATAM much better visibility on the location of ULDs, and their ambient conditions, for Mr Bianchi this is but one part of a broader push for real-time access to data.

The airline is working to replace its legacy system, a process that will replace a number of systems with a single end-to-end platform that is scheduled to go live halfway through next year.

“With this we will be able to provide much better tracking,” he said.

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