Jettainer signed a five-year agreement with United Airlines to provide unit load device management services including worldwide tracking and tracing, inventory fulfillment, ULD repairs and performance monitoring.

"The contract with United is a breakthrough for us and marks a milestone," Jettainer Director-Business Development Peter Ahnert tells Airline Procurement. "We see it as an endorsement of our company and our business model. It also shows that decision-makers at even the most demanding airlines recognize the tangible value attached to outsourced ULD management and Jettainer's services and solutions."

Based in Raunheim, Germany, Jettainer was established as a joint venture in 2003 and its major shareholders include TrenStar and Lufthansa Cargo. The company plans to open a new office at United's operations center in Elk Grove, Ill., and implement a suite of technology with advanced reporting features to support the daily management of ULDs throughout the carrier's international network.

While traditional vendors typically supply materials, outsourcing dealers perform services that are fully integrated into the principal's value chain, Ahnert points out. "Simply put, in an outsourced ULD management deal, Jettainer takes on all activities related to planning, steering and monitoring the airline's ULD supply chain."

The carrier maintains responsibility for physical ULD handling and transportation. Ahnert says that the benefits of this model include guaranteed pricing throughout the contract term, added flexibility and scalability of ULD fleet, single-source supplying, expanded ULD availability, enhanced transparency, reliable performance and a broad range of services.

"From a general perspective, outsourcing has long been established as a viable approach in the airline business," he adds, citing services such as ground handling, IT management, catering and aircraft maintenance. "In recent years ULD management has emerged as a new candidate for outsourcing, but many carriers, especially established medium-to-large airlines, have adopted a 'wait-and-see' attitude, leaving the first step to others."

In addition to United, network carriers such as Lufthansa, Swiss, US Airways and Etihad also outsource ULD management. Jettainer's deal with United increases its managed ULD portfolio to 65,000 units employed by 12 airlines at more than 500 locations worldwide.

"ULD management is a noncore activity for airlines, which makes it a prime candidate for outsourcing," says Ahnert. "We expect to reach a critical mass of innovative early adopters and anticipate the fast followers to seriously consider coming forward."

A team of Jettainer ULD controllers is currently on site at United's operations center and the IT departments of both companies have begun interfacing relevant systems. System rollout, training and operational transfer will be monitored by a joint project team.