Apron conductors

More than 50 Lufthansa Cargo employees ensure the smooth loading of our freighters, orchestrating the people and processes involved in handling.

How heavy is the burden of responsibility? For our Aircraft Operations colleagues who look after the handling of our freighters, it’s sometimes up to 347 tonnes – the maximum take-off weight of a B777F. Lufthansa Cargo employs 55 experts to ensure aircraft are correctly loaded for the perfect take-off. These can be office-based “weight and balance” agents, who determine the best possible weight and mass distribution in the cargo hold, or ramp agents on the apron. The latter supervise the handling of the freighters in all weathers. Just as a conductor confidently guides his orchestra through a musical piece, so the ramp agent manages the successful handling of a freighter.

The job comes with a great deal of responsibility. Our colleagues are perfectionist when it comes to ensuring that aircraft take off, fly and land safely. After all, failure to notice something amiss might have fatal consequences. Even an accident or crash in the worst-case scenario. Ramp agents assume personal liability by signing their names to confirm that all of the necessary loading steps have been taken. “We all have one foot in prison if an accident occurs”, confirms Head of Operation, Momcilo Ruzic.

Their skills are constantly checked to ensure it never comes to this. The colleagues have to produce a loading plan and load sheet manually four times a year to ensure loading can still proceed safely in the case of a system outage. And they have to prove their abilities in an examination every three years. Ten per cent of all departures are also audited internally. “There are clear guidelines for a successful flight: safety, punctuality, efficiency – in that order”, states Ruzic. “The type of consignments being flown is beside the point to begin with. We worry about the weight and volumes, which we use to calculate the aircraft’s perfect trim.

”The trim is an aircraft’s centre of gravity. It is especially important at take-off, but also during flying and landing, that the pilots know how heavy the freighter is and how the weight has been distributed in the cargo hold. The crew takes this information from the load sheet, handed over by the ramp agent. The take-off speed and other flight parameters are calculated using this data. The document is personally signed off as “correct” by the ramp agent. “We are the final authority and have to find every error, no matter how small, in the preliminary processes. Have all pallets been built in accordance with the plane’s contours; have all locks been closed in the cargo hold? Can all the goods be loaded together; has radioactive material been kept away from animals?”

Why would someone want such an immensely responsible job? “Everyone here lives and breathes aviation. I don’t have to warn anyone about their freighter getting off on time – the personal ambition of the ramp agents is already there”, says a pleased Ruzic. “And it’s just a great feeling to be the last to leave an aircraft which then takes off successfully using the data you created.” Does the stress result in a high turnover of staff? Ruzic grins: “Once a ramp agent, always a ramp agent. When you take on this job, you never leave.”