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Safe operation of aircraft requires all hold cargo and baggage to be loaded correctly.
Loading should be in full accordance with both generally applicable regulations and limitations, and in accordance with the instructions given by the person with overall responsibility for the loading process for a particular flight.
The Operational Safety Issues
Security considerations have led in recent years to the application of rigorous procedures to ensure ‘baggage reconciliation’ - the process by which only accompanied baggage is loaded, unless a special additional validation process for each unaccompanied bag has been followed.
Weight distribution between holds has a considerable effect upon the C of G of the aircraft; load distribution will be specified on the Loading Instruction Form per hold, or per hold compartment in the case of larger under floor holds. Many narrow body short haul aircraft are bulk loaded with loose individual items of baggage and cargo. Baggage loading in this case will be by item count, with the load and trim sheet using prescribed assumptions about the average weight per bag; this will often vary according to regulations set by the NAA of the aircraft operator, or more restrictive derivatives of these which take the aircraft operator’s own checked baggage rules into consideration. Average checked baggage item weight assumptions usually vary depending on whether the flight is a domestic, short haul foreign, or long haul foreign. Netting is used to restrain such items within holds so that they do not move in flight and prevent subsequent door opening. Similar netting may also be used to divide larger holds into sections in order to prevent in-flight movement affecting the C of G.
This is usually accomplished by delivery of items to the aircraft in a baggage train of towed trailers. This is then transferred into the aircraft hold via conveyor belts and finally positioned in the hold by loaders working within it. Usually, bulk loading of baggage items uses a system whereby loading crews are informed that the last bag for loading on a particular flight has arrived by use of an ‘End Bag’ identification tag - the tag is applied to the last checked bag sent to the aircraft.
Most wide bodied aircraft, and increasingly some narrow bodies, are able to use the much simpler system of aluminium containers called Unit Load Devices (ULDs). These can be used to consolidate baggage or cargo items which are then loaded into the aircraft hold by specialised hydraulic lift equipment. The ULDs are then manoeuvred manually to a final position on board by use of a roller floor, before being finally secured in position. Loaded ULDs must either be weighed, or the number of baggage items per container must be within a specified range and the prevailing standard baggage unit weights applied.
Under either system, special procedures may be prescribed for abnormal loads which:
- are covered by Dangerous Goods Regulations
- are heavy
- are of large size
- have unusual dimensions.
Heavy objects which exceed the hold floor loading limit published in the AFM may be able to be carried if arrangements for load spreading are prescribed.
Principal Hold Loading Risks
- Holds are not loaded by the loading crew in accordance with the Loading Instructions provided
- Items are not secured or restrained appropriately
- Items not permitted are loaded
- The aircraft structure (or propeller blades if applicable) are damaged by unintended impact from mechanised loading equipment which is either not appreciated at the time or is known about but is not immediately reported. The latter is an increasingly evident hazard with the increasing use of composite materials. While evidence of significant damage to a metal structure is usually clearly visible, this is not necessarily true for composite materials.
Consequences of Mis-loading
- Loss of Control in flight
- Runway Excursion during take off or landing
- Aircraft Hold Damage during flight