Airside International, March 2011
TNT Airways - based at Liege Airport in Belgium - is a complex provider of freight movement services. To accomplish the tasks requested by client shippers and freight forwarders, TNT has to be equipped and ready to perform. That is why it seeks out the most appropriate tailor-made solutions to its equipment needs. Jo Murray speaks to Julien Sidoni, Airport Services, TNT Global Air Network.
Think of freight and containers, ULDs and neat packages come to mind. But the experts in freight movement also carry freight with complex handling requirements that are time-sensitive, temperature sensitive, hazardous or even have four legs. The movement of livestock by airs is not only complicated, it also needs the support of the appropriate and often custom-made equipment. Just recently, Airside GSE has supplied new horse ramps to TNT Airways. "These horse ramps have been manufactured to be used across Europe at the stations where we operate most horse charters - they are not solely for use at Liège," exlplains Sidoni. "Liège is our home base but we operate horse charter from a lot of stations, mainly in Ireland and the UK, where we will locate these new ramps."
TNT already owns horse ramps for use with the BAe146 aircraft. These ramps are predominantly in place at Shannon, Ireland (which is currently TNT's most significant location for horse charter), as well as Cambridge and Farnborough in the UK, and le Bourget in France.
"The new horse ramps will be used in addition to these smaller ones. We are going to move many of the BAe146 ramps to other stations - but these stations are still to be determined", points out Sidoni. More than likely, Dublin will be supplied with the existing ramps, but there are also smaller locations to consider such as Deauville, France and Doncaster or Leeds Bradford, UK. It is clear that the stations at which TNT is positioning both the new larger horse ramps and the existing smaller ones are the locations traditionally associated with horse racing.
TNT's existing horse charter operations are all about small numbers of horses - a maximum of eight horses (carried in BAe146) to 15 horses (carried in the future in a 737) - being moved short distances by air. The integrated freight company is not, at present, in the business of flying dozens of horses from one continent to another. Essentially, horses are flown to a racecourse, the charter aircraft awaits the return of the horses to airport, and then the horses are flown back to their stables, probably in the UK or Ireland. That strategy is reflected in its GSE purchasing decisions. Planning this type of operation is not as difficult as it seems. TNT explaines that horse trainers study the schedule of races at the beginning of each season, make rough decisions as to which races they wish to attend with the final decision being made a minimum of 10 days before race day and then charter the appropriate air lift. TNT, with its customers, assumes which stations are the major ones for the upcoming season; but this does not vary much from year to year. Based on those assumptions, TNT locates its horse ramps at the most useful stations.
To date, the BAe146 has been used by TNT for horse transportation because it was the only aircraft type in the TNT fleet configured to accomodate TNT Airways' horse handling equipment, such as the appropriate container, seat pallets for the grooms and the portable ramp carried on board. However, the frieght airline now has available to it a B737 that has been fully converted in such a way that it is appropriate for horse transportation and a second unit of this type has just been converted to the same configuration.
Of course the 737 jas a much longer range than the BAe146 and it allows the simultaneous transportation of up to 15 horses. This will extend TNT's horse transportation business to new markets - perhaps even to airport hubs - that are useful to the horse racing, training, breeding and showing community.
The ramp acquired from Airside GSE are suitable for use with airframes from the size of a BAe146 up to an A300 or B767. Essentially, this also allows TNT's horse transportation business to become scalable so that, in the future, should there be a business case for operating larger freighters, the ramps will already be in place. It also means that the ramps could be useful to other freight companies looking to rent ramps on a temporary basis for deployment with larger aircraft types.
The horse ramps themselves presented a challenge, says Sidoni. "We have to maintain a certain angle so that the horses are able to climb the slope easily. At the same time, we have to take into account the dimensions of the ramp in order to put it on a truck and move it without any special transport," he says. "The new ramps have been made in order to fit normal trailer's dimensions. The side panels are capable of being dismantled so that they can be folded on the airport ramp and fitted into a trailer."
The ramp were developped in close cooperation with TNT's main customers for horse transportation. "We deal with very expensive horses which means we - and the equipment - have to deliver a lot of protection with no hard edges in the areas that come into contact with the horses," says Sidoni.
"In parallel, with these ramps located at the various airports, we also discussed with Airside GSE the portable ramps which are always carried on board the aircraft in case of diversion or in case we fly to an airport which is not equipped with sufficient equipment," he explains."These portable ramps can be assembled in about 20 minutes in order to embark and disembark the horses. We have one for the BAe146 and a different one for the B737." Portable ramps are already in use. They have been manufactured by Van Riemsdijk in the Netherlands, which is the manufacturer of the 737 horse stalls too.
Both the portable ramps and the airport ramps will be a significant enabled of TNT's horse transportation business goind forward. With larger freighters now available, with a larger range and equipped with new ramps, this is a slice of TNT's business that is definitely seeking new horizons.
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