As airlines continue to cram more passengers onto planes, maintaining efficient airport turnaround times is becoming increasingly problematic. Ben Reeves, vice-president of sales and marketing at Power Stow Americas, looks at how belt loader extensions can speed up the baggage-loading process, while also reducing the physical strain on ramp agents.
Ben Reeves: Power Stow was established in 2003 when the company's founder, Martin Vestergaard, saw the potential for a product that would improve the working conditions of ramp agents inside the aircraft, as well as quickening the baggage-loading/unloading process.
After working for over a year with local ground-handling company Novia, Power Stow debuted the Rollertrack system, an extension to a standard belt loader that reaches inside the aircraft's bulk hold, makes the 90° turn and delivers bags to the ramp agent inside.
To this day, Power Stow maintains Novia's fleet of Rollertrack units, continuing our first-hand access to the product in the real world. As a direct result of this experience, we have been able to continuously improve and develop the Rollertrack, honing it into the highly dependable, quality item we are so proud of today.
The introduction of luggage fees has lead to a growing number of passengers consolidating their checked baggage; this has resulted in a rise in average bag weight. When combined with an aging work force - a result of lower employee turnover among major airlines - it is easy to see why making ramp agents' jobs less physically demanding is important so that health and safety standards are maintained. Indeed, the US Government has identified baggage handling as the second-most dangerous occupation in the US in terms of back and shoulder injuries.
The Power Stow unit mechanically carries bags and cargo through the doorway and along the floor of the aircraft. This eliminates the need for a ramp agent to sit at the door in an awkward, injury-prone motion, throwing bags down the length of the aircraft hold. The health and safety of ramp agents is further improved by the Rollertrack system's adjustable-height loading head. Situated at the front end of the belt, it lifts bags the first 18-24in off the floor of the aircraft, reducing the strain placed on agents' backs and shoulders as they bend down to pick items up.
With narrow-body aircraft continuing to grow longer - 737-800s being an example - keeping turnaround times to a minimum is becoming more difficult. By making the baggage-loading/unloading process more efficient using the Rollertrack system, it is possible to cut bulk baggage-loading times by around 30%. Crucially, the Rollertrack uses fewer staff to do this, creating further financial gains and immediately reducing the number of workers who are vulnerable to injury.
In addition, the Rollertrack system improves aircraft fuel efficiency by removing onboard sliding carpet systems that add weight to the aircraft. Where these are not present, the Rollertrack still reduces manpower by cutting the number of ramp agents in the hold from two to one.
The Rollertrack also significantly lessens aircraft damage by halving the number of belt loader approaches.
We now have more than 200 units in operation. The majority of these are in European airports such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Frankfurt and Munich, and we have also started marketing the product in other parts of the world. We've made excellent progress so far, with operating units in Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the US, and we have also established Power Stow Americas.
Those who have used the Power Stow product are our best sales tool. They've experienced first-hand the benefits of our machine and will often get outside early for their flight in order to 'claim' a Power Stow unit for their gate.
What really differentiates us from the competition is our quality, reliability and outstanding documentation - all of which combine to produce excellent customer service. If one of our clients does have an issue, we are able to provide a quick and comprehensive solution.
The variety in our customers' belt loader chassis are not that important to us. We can add the Power Stow unit to a customer's chassis of choice; our products have already been used on a range of commercially available belt loader models such as the TLD, TUG and Mulag. By making the Power Stow versatile and universally applicable, operators and mechanics are able to familiarise themselves with the product and a spare parts community can develop.
Radio frequency identification technologies seem to be a perfect fit for the baggage-handling industry, and the Power Stow unit is an excellent platform for them. Using this technology would allow airlines to know with near certainty what and when bags are either loaded or unloaded from a flight, and in which order. With a Power Stow, it would even be possible to physically prevent a bag from being loaded on the wrong flight. It is innovation of this kind that has the potential to take baggage tracking and load management to the next level.
Power Stow was founded in 2003 by Martin Vestergaard, a well-known figure on the international ground support equipment scene through his affiliation with Company Vestergaard.
Domiciled in rural surroundings about 40 km from Copenhagen in Denmark, Power Stow is dedicated to the design, manufacturing and international marketing of the Power Stow Rollertrack Conveyor - a brand-new concept in mobile belt loading systems.
Prototyped and tested under harsh, everyday conditions in Copenhagen Airport, the Rollertrack Conveyor has proved its superior performance through cost-effective loading and offloading of passenger baggage on the ramp.
The initial prototype was built in 2004 and has been part of the daily operations in Copenhagen Airport ever since. Since then, we have built and delivered Power Stow Rollertrack Conveyors to airports all around the world.