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Partners to Track Airline Carts

eLSG.SkyChefs and Scanpak offer the airline catering industry a way to track food carts anywhere in the world.
Oct 14, 2002Oct. 14, 2002 - The airline business is basically about logistics. And it's not just making sure planes are where they need to be. The airlines have to manage the movement of some 25,000 items for in-flight service -- everything from blankets and pillows to toothpicks and olives.

eLSG.SkyChefs, an e-business application service provider, is trying to help the airlines automate the process of buying, moving and tracking many of these items. It recently signed a long-term deal with Scanpak of Canada to offer the airline catering industry a way to track food carts anywhere in the world.

The carts cost between $500 and $1,000 each. The major airlines may have upwards of 50,000 carts spread around the world, and they are often lost or stolen. Tony Naylor, vice president of in-flight solutions for eLSG.SkyChefs, says one airline told him it lost more than 1,500 carts during one three-month period.

eLSG.SkyChefs is a wholly owned subsidiary of LSG Lufthansa Service Holding AG, which also operates LSG Sky Chefs, the largest in-flight service provider in the world. A year ago, eLSG.SkyChefs started looking for a way to track the carts more effectively (bar codes have been used up to now). It looked at the RFID technology of half a dozen different companies and finally chose Scanpak's Galley Equipment Tracking System, or GETS.

One reason it chose Scanpak was that the company's tags could withstand the extreme conditions the carts have to endure. While in the plane's hold, they can be exposed to temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius, and during washing, the temperature can get as high as 85 degrees Celsius. Even more important, Scanpak's GETS had been tested in the real world and proved successful. Air Canada has been using GETS to track its trolley carts worldwide.

The system uses active (battery-powered) 433 MHz RFID tags under the trolley. Readers are placed in the ceiling rafters of the airline catering facilities, so the location of the trolleys can be tracked in real time. eLSG.SkyChefs provides the tags and readers, and it gives its airline customers access to tracking software on the Web. The companies pay only a hosting fee for the solution.

eLSG.SkyChefs is currently integrating Scanpak's software into its own portal, so eLSG.SkyChefs' customers will have access to the solution through one Web site. It expects to integrate Scanpak's tracking software with its own inventory control and scheduling applications by the end of the year.

"The key benefits here are reduced operating cost," says Naylor. "The system can reduce the number of lost trolleys, and we've done studies that show most airlines have a surplus of trolleys. With our system, we calculate that they can reduce the number of trolleys they need to own and service by 10 to 15 percent."

And better tracking and scheduling of trolleys can reduce the number of times a plane is late because a food cart is not available for a given flight. And with heighten concerns about security, the system can also give the airline better visibility into where their carts have been and who has been in contact with them. "It gives them a whole new level of transparency," says Naylor."
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