ULD Guide

Just to refresh your memory, a ULD (or unit load device) is either a pallet or container used to load luggage, freight, and mail on wide-body and specific narrow-body aircrafts. Pallets are made of rugged aluminum walls with rims designed to lock onto cargo net logs, while containers are typically closed and may have internal refrigeration units. ULDs are beneficial to all industries since they allow large quantities to be bundled into a single unit and thus require fewer transport loads. By using a ULD, your company can save time, money, and help prevent delays at the airport.

So who officially controls these ULDs? Unit load devices are actually owned by individual airlines. Every time a ULD is released or accepted by an airline agent, a ULD control receipt report is completed. This document is vital to determine the responsibility and liability in respect of each unit released or accepted into a warehouse. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is the primary source of industry wide technical information for ULDs and monitors these acceptable specifications closely.

Every unit load device is given a category code (one letter of the alphabet), depending on what type of product it is carrying or what kind of ULD it is. Here are some common codes:

A – Certified aircraft container

D – Non-certified container

P – Certified aircraft pallet

R – Thermal certified aircraft container

J – Thermal non-certified aircraft container

U – Non-structural container

H – Horse stall

K – Cattle stall

V – Automobile transport equipment

When it comes time to ship you ULD, there are specific details you should pay close attention to concerning the ULD’s contour. With an open pallet, you have the opportunity to create the shape or outline, so you should know: the ULD routing, the aircraft you are loading the completed container for flight, and the loading position on the aircraft. When consulting with the airline, look into their manuals and regulations to confirm any queries you may have (some aircrafts have odd sizes for ULDs to fit in certain loading positions). All three of these elements can adversely affect your package if they are not looked into ahead of time. For instance, if the contour of the ULD is not correct it will be offloaded regardless of the cargo. This will delay your shipment, causing your customers to have an unsatisfactory experience with your company and costing you valuable time and money.

For more information, visit http://www.iata.org.

RFID Systems


RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is a unique wireless non-contact system that uses radio-frequency electromagnetic fields to transfer data from a tag attached to an object, for the purposes of automatic identification and tracking. Some tags require no battery and are instead powered by electromagnetic fields, while others use local power sources to emit radio waves. These tags store information electronically and can be read from up to several yards away. RFID is implemented in many industries. Pharmaceuticals apply them in their warehousing to keep track of stocked items. Tags are injected in livestock, allowing the animals to be positively identified. Even the automobile industry uses RFID to detect and retrieve stolen cars or bill motorists for access to toll roads. There are endless opportunities with RFID, and the air cargo business has begun to apply them to ULDs for easier tracking and tracing.

A major problem the airlines face is their present ULD tracking system. Currently, the airlines face hardships such as human error (human intervention is required to read and record the ULD number by a UCM) and lack of centralized data. There is no way to reconcile a ULDthat leaves the system at one airport and reappears at another, and this causes big problems.

Although airlines were late to adopt the RFID tags, they now use them on ULDs, passenger baggage, TD cargo shipments, and ground handling equipment. Attaching an RFID tag to a ULD allows airline personnel and customers to track the baggage at several airports and airlines through common Internet applications. ULDs equipped with RFID tags are automatically registered at points where liability changes hands. This is extremely important to airlines. Air France and Lufthansa alone lose 5-6% every year of their ULD inventory, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. If they attached RFID tags, they would know the last known location of the ULD and most likely find the containers. The implementation of these tags leads to higher transparency between logistics providers and airline carriers, ensuring quicker clearance through US customs. Unlike barcodes, RFID tags do not need to be within line of sight of the reader and may be embedded in the traced object.


In order to work efficiently, RFID must be used within the entire supply chain. The tags provide distributors and customers with constant updates and reliable data regarding their shipments. By attaching RFID tags to ULDs, loading and unloading processes are accelerated and the risk of improper loadings is reduced. If you would like greater control over your shipments, RFID tags are the perfect solution and will always keep you updated.

What is a ULD?

ULD Pallet

ULD stands for unit load device, which is a pallet or container used to load luggage, freight, and mail onto aircrafts. If the ULD is a pallet, it is most likely made from aluminum sheets equipped with rims to lock onto cargo nets. Once loaded, the shipments are wrapped with shrink-wrap or tied together using cargo nets. A container – sometimes referred to as a can or pod – is a closed ULD framed with aluminum. Depending on the items being shipped, these containers could have built-in refrigeration units or Lexan walls (a type of thermoplastic).

Why are unit load devices so important?

ULDs are an efficient way to ship bulk packages domestically or internationally. Large quantities of cargo can be bundled in a single unit, making it less likely to get lost or improperly manhandled along the way. These devices save crews time and effort, not to mention help prevent delays. Another plus to using a ULD is the balanced loading it provides. Instead of warily stacking box on top of box and praying they don’t shift in transit, ULDs offer support and organization for your packages.

ULDHow to ship a ULD

Before you purchase your own unit load device, it is very important you know where you are shipping items and how much space those items will occupy. ULDs are unique because they are built based on the availability of space in an aircraft body. Once the smaller packages are loaded onto the pallet or container, the shipment should be shrink-wrapped starting at the base. After that, adhesive and labels are applied to the outer surface and the shipment is numbered to guarantee a safe delivery.

There are different specifications depending on where your package’s final destination is. If shipping domestically, you are free to use a regular pallet or container. However, if you are planning on shipping internationally, you must use a heat-treated or plastic pallet and bind it twice with ties after it is wrapped. If you fail to bind the ULD, it will not be loaded on the aircraft, and thus not delivered.

Shipping large packages can be tedious and stressful, so anything that makes this process a little smoother is extremely valuable to your company. ULDs have an impressive reputation and are the most secure option when transporting large quantities. Next time your company is looking to send items via aircraft, a ULD is definitely an excellent option to ensure the shipment arrives unharmed at the final destination.