Improve your Load Control efficiency (4): Why the auto-load button doesn´t always make your life easier….

In Load Control automation can be described as the use of system support to simplify processes. But it appears that the benefits gained through automation are perceived differently between the management and the user level. It is the management’s task to take these gaps into consideration when deciding to make their load control department more efficient through automation support.  

The objective of automation in Load Control is to increase the efficiency of a load controller enabling him/her to produce more load sheets and load plans per shift - while ensuring the same quality level. Therefore automation is usually achieved by the following automation features: 

Automatically triggered Load Control events:
Certain Load Control events have to be executed at a specific time (for instance sending the first estimate ZFW XY minutes before ETD, etc.). Here, a schedule driver that triggers Load Control events automatically is responsible for the automated processing.

Auto-load functionality:
The creation of load plans / loading instructions is done by an algorithm considering all necessary company and country rules as well as special load and dangerous goods.

Especially the auto-load functionality is an intensively discussed approach and highly favored among management. From their perspective automation comes along with higher productivity, reduced errors and more user comfort, making the life of a load controller easier.

Yet in practice and from a load controller’s perspective things are different: During my work as a consultant for load control I experienced many Load Control organizations where load controller continued to create their load plans manually by drag and drop - not using the “comfortable” auto-load button.   

What might be the explanation? One just has to carefully listen to how the Load Controllers answered, when being asked, why they are not using this feature. Two typical answers were: 

“My manual load plan has a better quality than with auto-load” 

“By not using auto-load, I always have an exact overview about what was loaded where.  I can better react”

These statements exactly mirror some psychological issues automation brings along. The load controller has a different “inside” view on the “benefits” of automation than his management does. This perception is accompanied by certain emotions which are usually neglected by the management when introducing a new system and changing their load control department into “automation mode”.  

Let´s have a closer look at these two replies and what´s behind:

“My manual load plan has a better quality than with auto-load”
In times, where the auto-load functionality of an sophisticated weight & balance system is able to consider all the business rules for creating a load plan this argument doesn´t seem very convincing anymore. The aim of the algorithm is to create the load plan according to the same rules as a load controller would apply. Therefore, such repetitive standard rules can be executed by an algorithm.

What might be the reason behind such a load controller reply? Each load controller gained a lot of weight and balance knowledge during his training and work life. He/she had to pass several exams to become a licensed load controller. This gave him a certain competency and expertise. Now, this competency is more or less being replaced by the algorithm. This might be accompanied by a fear losing further competency in the future up to being replaced completely. It is therefore even more important that the management addresses this fear by emphasizing that the competency now has changed. The new challenge for a load controller is to manage many more flights simultaneously and focus on taking care of disruptions and exceptions.


“By not using auto-load, I always have overview about what was loaded where. I can better react”
By becoming a load controller you learn how to manually create load plans – many times by simply using paper. With the support of a load control system, the drag and drop functionality even makes life easier as the time-consuming handwriting is omitted.

Of course, by putting one load item after the other manually in your load plan, you exactly know, what you have done and where each load item was placed.  And let´s be honest: This is also more fun and part of the competency trained. But when speaking about “better reacting”: Should this expertise trained and gained not finally result in another additional competency?  An experienced load controller should be able to work on-the-spot with any created load plan with load items loaded and diagnose, whether the result is fine or he needs to do any improvement/trouble-shooting.  So is manual drag and drop for an experienced load controller really the prerequisite for better reaction?

The argumentative solution can be deducted from the following ”give & take” situation when using auto-load”: The “amount” of saved mental requirement for the load plan creation by pushing an auto-load button can now be used for the evaluation of critical load plan situations, that really need a human factor for solution. This can never be done by system and that´s also, why Load Controllers shouldn´t fear their status quo.


What is the conclusion?

Implementing a system that changes your load controllers work environment requires a change management program also considering more the human factor. It’s not just advancements of the new technology that have to be addressed or a simple training.  Other elements that are part of the work culture, such as the status quo, traditions, mindset, fear or apathy seem to consistently influence the employees in a changing work environment. Therefore management should help their employees with the mental transition towards a new self-concept of the changed work-role.

Unfortunately, my experience is that many managers avoid handling this more “emotional” issue. I can just recommend taking the effort to do it. It simply lies in the nature of this topic, that employees being asked to use automation first show resistance. But by addressing all aspects within this broader change management approach usually organizations achieve that most of the employees gradually get integrated into the new environment until the new status quo is reached.

I am looking forward to reading your comments about this difficult topic!



Nick Yeadon's picture

A great post, what you are highlighting is the change from “legacy” to “modern” load control thinking and often the barrier to this is the management and not the Load Control staff. After all it’s the management that agree the levels of automation.
When changing to a more modern way of working I would recommend taking the time to understand what the system is capable of and embrace it. All too often I have seen elements of the automation disabled, because of company policy, artificially reducing the productivity of the load controller. Inevitably later there is pressure to achieve the productivity levels that other companies achieve and the automation activated. We achieve productivity levels of 50 loadsheets per shift with some customers and as little as 10 with others using the same system, the only difference is the automation levels.
Its not that the challenges are different it’s just that with automation they are less frequent allowing a higher productivity level.

Caroline Ossmann's picture

Dear Nick
thank you for sharing your experiences. You’re right that with automation Load Controler can achieve a much higher productivity provided that the right functionality is enabled and the employees are gradually integrated into the new environment.

Caroline, on behalf of Michael :)

Kush Chawla's picture

Agree 100 %, the use of algorithm has made life so much easier, efficient, error free. The technology is always a support having elements of human supervision as essential. The human supervision has more control over the situation and circumstances in terms of flow, changes and last minute changes or deviation which cannot ever be eliminated, especially considering the dynamic environment we operate in. The right mix of technology with human interface will ensure better safety requirements being met and keeping up with the change in demand norms. My practicing days as a planner always went with having to do a couple of load sheets done manually to ensure and ascertain to keep the skills alive and avid complacency. So again, valid provisions being made to get the job done faster, produce more and ensure industrial norms being met.

Caroline Ossmann's picture

Thank you for your comment and sharing your gained experiences with us.

Caroline, on behalf of Michael

Mark Hartshorne's picture

Any auto-load functionality, where it exists (and we all know there are still some solutions out there that do not have any at all) and assuming it has all the necessary data input, targets and business rules to follow, should be leveraged as this will produce the optimal load distribution for a flight every time without fail.

The question around it’s use must lie in what happens next for the load controller should he/she know something more than the system does and is required to make adjustments and/or refinements. Just how easy that task is will be the determining factor of whether a load controller will execute an automatic distribution or not; he/she will know that for a system that is not easy to work with in respect of refining a distribution may or will consume more time/effort than taking a ‘manual’ approach in the first instance.

Here’s a thought.

How many systems offer a selective approach to auto-load? I hazard a guess at none! If we make the fair and reasonable assumption that most ‘solvers’ are designed to look to achieve (chase?) optimum CG then there is a possible failing in that single line of thought. Although we all appreciate that CG affects fuel consumption, there may be times when this should not necessarily be the driver for autoload. Perhaps offsetting optimum CG for optimal offload productivity? Contributing a time factor variable for a delayed flight scenario in which the (possible/probable) cost of time saved on the next turnaround is greater than the anticipated fuel saving on the flight (or flights) is perhaps just as valid a target and may be a requirement for an LCC or a small fleet operator who little if any opportunity to efficiently juggle aircraft to recover time as a solution target that just loads to optimal CG for large aircraft?

If solution providers were to start to take a look beyond optimal CG and look at other variables that can/could come into play under differing circumstances and/or a different array of priorities set by a carrier’s operation then we can make a load controller get ‘more involved’ and become more engaged in broader decision making processes whilst assuring that ‘autoload’, whichever flavour being required for execution is honoured for what it is or at least should be and confidently back in use each and every time.

Michael Fritzsche's picture

Dear Mark,

thank you for your thoughts.
As Michael Muzik is unavailable at the moment I’d like to take the opportunity and write some short sentences regarding your thoughts.

You are absolutely right: There are different situations where the autoload algorithm should not focus on achieving the optimum CG.

Modern autoload solutions should consider not only the CG, but also factors like on/offload sequence, restrictions and several rules. These factors should be adjustable depending on routings, flight numbers and/or aircraft types.

If the Load Controller is aware that autoload does only try to achieve a certain goal he/she might prefer to perform the distribution manually in order to get an expected result.

On the roadmap for our Load Control solution we already consider this point.

Our idea is to extend autoload by different scenarios. The Load Controller shall be able to trigger them by choosing several optimization criteria.
Possible dependencies could be routings, aircraft types etc.

Beside the benefit on the autoload functionality these improvements will also help to increase the Load Controller’s trust in the system.

Best regards,

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