APEX Insight: Trolley tracking is getting a push from technology. In this section of the multipart feature, we explore how RFID tracking has made keeping on top of carts easier than ever.

KLM and Air Canada were among the first to adopt radio frequency identification (RFID) for tracking trolleys in the 1990s: KLM’s process required each trolley to be rolled past an RFID reader within six inches, and improving on that, Air Canada adopted an RFID trolley tag that could be read within 300 feet. RFID tracking means fewer misplaced trolleys, wasted meals and unnecessary trips between aircraft, airports and kitchens. It’s even used to identify meals for passengers with dietary requirements or special orders in the first-class cabin.

“With boutique and preorder environments, and anything that has a tax implication, we track better the opening and closing of those carts so that we can understand that they are being used in the appropriate way.” – Simon de Montfort Walker, CTO of Gategroup

Gategroup CTO Simon de Montfort Walker says that although his catering company is using RFID to identify and track trolleys, the technology is generally being applied to more security-sensitive areas such as duty-free carts, which could include high-value items like pearl necklaces or quartz watches. “With boutique and preorder environments, and anything that has a tax implication, we track better the opening and closing of those carts so that we can understand that they are being used in the appropriate way,” de Montfort Walker explains. Smart trolleys with special sensors and locking mechanisms ensure that every action is accounted for, reducing the likelihood of loss and theft. “We’re [also] moving to trolleys which are not manually sealed but are opened with a staff card … It gives us a digital record of access and use,” he adds.

LSG Group has plans to integrate RFID technology into its trolleys too, but for now, is using a QR code system, called SkyTrack, introduced by its subsidiary SkylogistiX, which tracks trolleys with handheld scanners or smartphones. The launch was conducted with Thomas Cook Group leisure carrier Condor. SkyTrack gives airlines an accurate count of trolleys in their fleet, as well as their exact location. The system can be accessed through the cloud, or be part of an enterprise resource planning inventory management system, the latter of which LSG Group has chosen to use.

“IATA studies and our first experiences have shown that the overall trolley fleet can be reduced by approximately two to four percent, and that annual replenishment costs can be cut by up to 50 percent.” – Kay Wichmann, managing director of SkylogistiX

“This can have a big financial impact for airlines with access to predictive forecasting and an overall benefit of driving down equipment spend,” Kay Wichmann, managing director of SkylogistiX, says. “IATA studies and our first experiences have shown that the overall trolley fleet can be reduced by approximately two to four percent, and that annual replenishment costs can be cut by up to 50 percent.”

But de Montfort Walker insists that managing a fleet of trolleys is as much about the carts themselves as it is about their contents: “While each trolley has a serial number … we’ve got to be sure that we have equipment balance between the stations.” Maintaining the trolley balancing act on aircraft and at in-flight catering hubs, he explains, ensures there are enough trays and cutlery on every flight.

“Trolleys” was originally published in the 7.4 September/October issue of APEX Experience magazine.

Marisa Garcia was once locked in a hangar in Oberpfaffenhofen while fine-tuning Gandalf’s new seats. Seriously. The firemen got her out. Writing is less confining, but she has lovely memories of those hands-on days.