Critical Aircraft Planning Shortfall

An example of a vehicle/piece of equipment that required center of balance
An example of a vehicle/piece of equipment that required center of balance


For three years I worked in the logistics field in and around Jacksonville, North Carolina. I did logistical planning and execution of aircraft for both passengers and vital air cargo that needed to get transported overseas. I had completed extensive amounts of paperwork that had to get done in the preparation for the movements, particularly inspections of the cargo for banned/hazardous materials. Hazardous material needed to be properly documents, packaged, labeled, and then inspected in order for me to sign off on it, which then held me liable if anything had happened with the cargo on the aircraft.

As part of the cargo, vehicles also needed to get loaded onto cargo aircraft. Vehicles were a challenge because they had to be calculated for center of balance and based on that measurement a load plan would be created for the aircraft. If anyone is not familiar, the center of balance is the point at which a vehicle would remain in equilibrium, or balanced on both sides. This was an important part of loading vehicles – to heavy of an axle towards the front or back of the aircraft and not enough weight on the other side could be disastrous.

In an attempt to cut costs and save time, the management at our office decided to invest in a weigh-in-motion scale. This system was outfitted with four scales and a laser system. When a vehicle was driven over the scales, it would automatically take the weight of each individual axle (similar to a highway truck weigh station) and the lasers would capture the exact dimensions. This information is then transferred to the computer and printed out a center of balance ticket which was used in planning the aircraft configuration.

A very simple process, with one major flaw. The system was a mobile unit on a trailer and had to be packed after every use. Due to this it took a little over an hour (and a small team of people) to set it up and get everything calibrated correctly. There was a team of only three of us that were initially trained and knew how to properly work this system, which is plenty knowing that once it is set up the system is extremely easy to use. What the management did not think of is that we were on a constant rotation cycle, moving from city to city or state to state every couple years. With this high turn-around there was no planned way for anyone to pass on the knowledge about the system and how it works. The system has now been sitting idle for over a year. It is a shame to know that such an expensive, valuable system is not being used because the proper training did not occur to get people up to speed. A good idea on paper, but the needs of the workers at the terminal must be considered.

As management, would be your solution to create a smoother transition into this system?