Behind the scenes - ensuring smooth cargo flows


Millions of goods are circling in international airspace at any given time. Getting each shipment to the right address is a carefully orchestrated affair.

A customer in Frankfurt plans to ship a consignment of measuring instruments to New York via Helsinki. Alas, there is a complication: the shipment contains radioactive material. Dangerous goods cannot be shipped aboard a passenger aircraft flying to the United States, because US authorities adhere to stricter rules than Europe. 
When cargo in transit needs extra attention, Finnair’s go-to team is the Smart Cargo Hub Centre (SCH) in Helsinki. Founded last year to enhance service quality, this unit coordinates operative planning and all matters related to special cargo acceptance and approvals.
The German customer’s radioactive shipment must be marked with a “Cargo Aircraft Only” (CAO) handling label – but only after it arrives in Helsinki. Otherwise it cannot fly to Helsinki aboard a regular passenger aircraft. To avoid any delay, a fiddly process cranks into action. 
“Frankfurt sends a pre-advisement to SCH, and SCH informs our Helsinki Terminal Control Centre about incoming details. When the flight from Frankfurt is unloaded, a qualified cargo officer personally picks up the shipment, carefully attaches two CAO labels and makes a record in our system that the shipment may now be transported to JFK – but only aboard a cargo aircraft,” explains Henry Rantala, Finnair Cargo's Standards Manager.

Finger on the pulse

“The process may seem complicated, but it’s the only way to comply with varying regulations. Although rules concerning dangerous goods are consistent worldwide, certain states and operators insist on stricter variations.”
Normally all goes smoothly according to standard procedure – but not always. 
“Technical problems may delay flights, heavy snowstorms may hinder ramp transportation, or readymade containers may need to be unloaded and rebuilt to optimize capacity,” Rantala explains.
Again, SCH is the first point of contact in the event of any irregularities – though its ultimate task is to avert problems in the first place. There are five SCH managers dedicated exclusively to managing and controlling Finnair Cargo Operations across a network of 70 destinations.
The hub is called “smart” because real-time data about loads and schedules is instantly accessible via SCH’s IT systems, eliminating the need for back-and-forth confirmations. Whatever cannot be seen straight from the system is double-checked via instant communicator.

Close-knit network

Good connections to other key organizations within the Finnair Group are essential for smooth coordination of cargo flows. Finnair’s Hub Control Center (HCC) connects all relevant Finnair operations, such as aircraft handling and ramp loading functions, at the Helsinki Airport through an efficient chat network. The time-saving chat also shares information about flight cancellations and other discrepancies to various Finnair organizations simultaneously so that possible actions can be taken immediately.

Finnair Network Control Center (NCC), keeps all Finnair organizations up to date of possible discrepancy situations by text messages. Operative matters of a more permanent nature are shared through an extranet available for all operative groups.

If, for instance, the aircraft type for a certain flight changes, Finnair Cargo’s Revenue Management team takes action to adjust the cargo load for the flight in question. If needed, the team also arranges potentially offloaded cargo to be moved to other flights.

Important partners in day-to-day work are also the two Centralized Load Control (CLC) teams – separate for long haul and short haul flights – who help in tackling weight or timeline challenges while keeping Finnair Flight Dispatch in the loop.

Thinking on our feet

Smart Cargo Hub also works closely with Finnair Cargo’s Terminal Control Centre (TCC), which is in charge of all handling operations at the Helsinki terminal, all the way from the aircraft to the cargo terminal to onward transportation. TCC is responsible for Unit Load Device (ULD) build-up, ULD breakdown, cargo delivery, and loading and unloading of trucks and cargo aircraft.
“Although SCH has all the weight and volume information about shipments at its fingertips, it’s very important that experienced TCC managers ensure that loading takes place exactly as planned,” Rantala says.
Special cargo would never arrive at its destination on schedule without finely-tuned coordination between these two units – not to mention trust, team spirit and a readiness for last-minute (re)thinking.
“Challenges may sometimes arise due to an unexpected flight delay, for instance. If there isn’t sufficient manpower available in the warehouse, everything must be reprioritized – rapidly.”
Text by Silja Kudel
Photo by iStockphoto


Published June 17, 2013

Category: Finnair Cargo