Demystifying Express Ground Handling: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at CFL’s Operations – CFL

Demystifying Express Ground Handling: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at CFL’s Operations

You don’t move goods on and off the airport for over 40 years without learning a thing or two. Specifically, how to get items from A to B smoothly and with speed. So while we’re not ones to blow our own horn, we do think we’ve got some good linehaul logistics experience in us to share. 

Before we take you behind the scenes at Heathrow Airport however, let’s first look at what linehaul logistics is. 

This is the process of moving freight and goods of any size, using any mode of transport, from rail and road to waterways and, of course, air. The official definition doesn’t sound nearly as interesting or impressive as it is in real life, so our ground handling team will take it from here to explain exactly what it all entails.

In the air

It seems crazy to think that only a few decades ago, moving express parcels by air meant buying a passenger ticket and having the goods travel as luggage. However, our overhaul of the linehaul process has replaced the need for this.

Instead, a large proportion of our partners’ shipments arrive in bags that weigh up to 32kg – just like your holiday suitcase. These are placed within the belly of the aircraft, ready to be unloaded when they land at our purpose-built facility at Heathrow.

The goods touchdown

From the moment the plane touches down, the clock begins ticking for our grounds team. We’re the only dedicated express courier handling facility at Heathrow, which means we’ve honed our skills to accept shipments from up to 90 minutes before flight departure and can generally release imports within an hour of arriving at our facility.

Our teams are super synchronised when it comes to processing shipments together. For imported goods we have vehicle offload teams who bring the airline equipment already loaded with bags into the facility. From here, the co-load team takes charge and unloads all the bags, ensuring they’re counted, recorded, and prepared for collection by our customers. 

Everything is then moved to the collection area and loaded onto belts headed towards our partners’ vans. The whole process can be completed in just a matter of minutes.

Getting through customs

As with anything flying into the country, it needs to be processed through customs

Traditional general cargo customs clearance can’t be cleared until the goods have arrived at the cargo shed and been assigned cleared status and this can usually take a number of hours. However, our unique customs clearance approval allows shipments to be customs cleared as soon as the flight lands. 

This means upon arrival at CFL, goods can be despatched to our partners immediately without additional delay. 

Keeping things moving

Back in 2021, we moved warehouses which allowed us to invest significantly in new bag transfer equipment. This has made it even easier for us to transfer goods at speed.

Our belts can even take parcels directly into the back of a partner’s van – and vice versa. Goods can be unloaded from a van, straight onto an export belt that whizzes them away. As well as being incredibly efficient (and impressive to see) all of this means minimal manual handling for any drivers visiting our facilities.

Security, please!

Our team are the proud owners of a state-of-the-art Standard 3.1 EDS machine. Okay, no problem if you’re not familiar with its technical name, the really important thing about this machine is that its functionality makes for a much smoother security check. 

The Standard 3.1 EDS replaces the old school dual-view x-ray machines that are typically used in cargo facilities. And, we’re the only handler at Heathrow using this level of technology. 

This machine automatically identifies risks, which means we can screen items much more quickly than a dual-view machine. It all contributes to the rapid turnaround time of export shipments and means we can offer a top-rate cut-off time to airlines.

How Our Teams Work

Happy, empowered, and well prepared staff are the key to our success. We recently changed to a 4-day on, 4-day off shift pattern with multiple start times. This allows everyone the proper time to recoup and recharge, as well as ensuring we have better coverage during peak times and when working with increased volume. 

CFL vs Cargo

Now you know a little bit more about how we do things, it’s worth seeing how we stack up to other import and export methods. Chiefly, cargo handling.

Processing times

If moving goods via general cargo, you can expect a longer processing time and overall wait. We work with around 30 airlines, which means our partners can collect or drop off their items for multiple airlines at the same time. This is unlike a cargo handler, who is likely to have just one or two airlines in a facility and will therefore need partners to make more stops and collections.

Workspace efficiency

Cargo tends to have much larger shipments and bigger consolidations, which of course calls for larger spaces to operate in. Cargo also remains in its building for hours, rather than mere minutes with us, meaning we can be smarter with our space. Achieving more with a smaller footprint allows us to use that money to properly pay our staff what they’re worth, and invest in more innovation, whilst also passing on cost sayings to our partners.

Customer relationships

For cargo handlers it’s typically the airline that is their customer. However, for us the airline is a partner and the courier is our customer. While we make sure the airlines are happy and looked after, this essentially means our focus is on providing couriers with the best possible service and experience. Every courier we work with will have access to information, communication, and people in a way that just doesn’t happen in the general cargo handling environment.

If you’d like to know more about partnering with us for your imports and exports, or would like a tour of our facility please contact us at tilly.sharp@cfl.aero