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Aircraft Service Logistics


The increasing service demand especially on ultra long haul routes requires new ways for cabin service. This EU-funded project will develop new service concepts for increased comfort, reducing stowage volume on the passenger deck and the reduction of turn-around time. The following article describes the project status and the prospects for the future.

Programme & Partners

The European research programme ASL (Aircraft Service Logistics) was started in 2000. It was the combination of different independent research activities in this field, allowing for the first time a closed-loop analysis of the existing service process from the caterer and back to the caterer and a "controlled approach" to a more user-friendly and economic service concept. The project is scheduled for 3 years and finishes with the construction and testing of hardware in the movable “Cabin Simulator” at Airbus Deutschland in Hamburg. There are 5 working phases, the Requirements Phase, the Concept Phase, the Specification Phase and the Construction Phase. In this frame seven partners agreed to develop a new baseline for the cabin service of tomorrow: Airbus Deutschland as coordinator and system integrator, Deutsche Lufthansa as on-board service provider, Driessen as service equipment provider, Fuselage Engineering Services 2000 (FES) as system inventor, GateGourmet International as caterer, IAI/Bedek Aviation Group as retrofitter and system manufacturer, and Technical University Berlin for the operational viability.

The Environment

Today's on-board service is a key element for attracting passengers. Two general approaches are visible today: The full service provider and the no-frills airline with all facets inbetween. Beside of the costs for the service items, a significant part of the cabin is used for storage resulting in a reduced utilization of the cabin volume for passengers. Furthermore, catering on ground and boarding is a sequential process resulting in a longer turn-around time. Since its introduction in the late sixties, the trolley has proven as a relatively heavy but flexible transport and storage container, which is very hard to replace.

The Objectives

The objective of this project is the generation of baseline concepts for a better utilization of the payload volume and a decoupling of the link “High service standard vs. reduction in seat capacity”. For the success of this challenge, installability of such a system in both Airbus and Boeing aircraft is evident. Reduction in turn-around time by parallel catering and boarding helps improving the economy of aircraft operation.

The Solution

To cover all the abovementioned requirements, a separation of the storage and service function must be achieved. The only area, flexible enough, easy to access and available with minor modification is the cargo compartment. The use of existing cargo container dimensions allows handling without special loading equipment. With this prerequisite, the general system architecture was evident: A standard-sized container with an internal logistics system, an onboard lift for moving the service items to the passenger deck(s), a service station functioning as an operator and on/off-loading station. The flexibility of the systems allows either the conservation of trolleys or the introduction of lightweight, wheelless storage boxes. The latter requires a number of service carts which remain on the aircraft. The ASL container is a standard-sized LD6 96” (AMF) container. It contains eight pallets on which the trolleys or the service boxes are stored. Parallel to the physical loading of the service boxes into the container at the caterer, the article description is stored in the container's electronic memory. After loading into the aircraft, it will be mechanically connected to a closed loop cooling system and electrically to the onboard control system. This allows operation and control from the galley. The clear language article description of the container memory allows easy handling and retrieval. Container internal kinematics transport the selected service box(es) on the respective pallet to a position underneath the lift. The lift will raise the pallet to the passenger deck. In case of trolleys, an immediate off-loading can be performed. The wheelless service boxes will be automatically loaded on an aircraft-located service cart. The modular construction of the ASL system allows the operation of the system with equipment from different vendors and different technology. In this project the container internal logistics system is a “carrier” system. Other developments are possible. The same is valid for the lift system. Two competing technologies are under development: a ball screw driven lift and a belt driven lift. Both are candidates for later realization, with pros and cons for their individual installation environment. The most important component is the lifting interface. Several concepts have been analyzed. Finally, the three most promising will be realized in hardware for tests. The first is the “Semi-independent Platform”, an interface, which uses three horizontally orientated pins to connect in three holes of the pallet. The second is a socalled “Dovetail” interface, which uses the movement of the container internal kinematics for automatic engagement. The third solution is the “Scissors” interface, which uses the movement of the lift for engagement. To assure the benefit to the airlines by better cabin utilization the Technical University Berlin made a series of layouts of Airbus and Boeing wide-body aircraft. The first general results showed a seat gain in the range of 2% to 5%. Application of the individual layout rules of the airlines could improve the seat gain. Due to the individual service demand of First and Business Class passengers and the fast reaction time needed, application of this system was assumed for Economy class passengers only.

The Future

The ASL project is intended to provide a platform for further onboard logistics concepts. The possible internal stretch of the cabin by reducing the storage volume on the passenger deck is a cheap alternative for increasing the aircraft efficiency for every wide-body aircraft (Airbus and Boeing). The service level on different routes can easily be adapted by the flexibility of the ASL container. Further possible improvements are automatic microwave or inductive heating during the retrieval process or self service on low cost flights.

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