Focusing on Innovation within Challenging Market Conditions: AEROTUF

Since inception in 1998, AEROTUF has grown to be one of the leaders in the cargo market. From the first AeroBOX delivery in 2002, to the introduction of AeroSECURE and AeroPALLET in 2016 and the innovative AeroTHERM most recently. AEROTUF has been renowned for designing and delivering well regarded, high quality air cargo containers. At the heart of this growth has constantly sat innovation, which continues to be the backbone of the Company.

Based in Charleston, South Carolina, with Global customers spanning 6 Continents and more than 100 years of combined industry experience across its leadership team, AEROTUF’s flexibility to the market has been key to success. It’s this dynamism that they feel will continue to build a robust and innovative space both within the Company and within the market. Rebranded from Advanced Composite Structures (ACS) in early 2019, AEROTUF focused on reflecting the new phase this business was moving into. Tom Pherson, President at AEROTUF explains “we are not forgetting or disregarding our heritage. AEROTUF will always make ULD’s the industry is familiar with. However, we feel that specific, Performance Driven ULD’s reflect the increasing technical demands of the air cargo industry.”

When it comes to innovation, AEROTUF is in the business of providing Performance Driven ULD’s. These are containers which can be thermally protective, fire containing, and high-security.  At the same time, they are highly durable, efficient and light. In the last 12 months, AEROTUF has seen interest and demand from innovative, forward thinking airlines and supporting industry groups in Europe, Middle East and the Asia Pacific Region. This interest has continued throughout the COVID-19 crisis. “The last 2 months has seen the airline industry slow down for sure, but interest has remained high with our key customers and opportunities, and as this goes to press, we are seeing pace begin to increase once again” (T. Pherson, President).

As many businesses will know, the structure of any company must reflect the dynamism of the market it operates in. AEROTUF has taken the time to structure and grow its organization accordingly, bringing in subject matter experts from a variety of fields to support its development and growth objectives. As a result, time has been spent on developing wider market knowledge and expertise – most recently around the needs and demands of the perishable cargo sector. Perishable cargo involves the transportation of time and temperature sensitive products that manufacturers and buyers generally accept are moved as part of a premium transportation service These products often add cost and complication to a supply chain, so innovation and simplification are key, while having absolute focus on maintaining the quality of the goods being shipped.

While general air cargo demand has shrunk in recent years, perishable volumes in this market have shown impressive growth. As a result of this trend, AEROTUF asked itself the question; “how can we make ULD’s to protect perishables, that remain easy to use, minimize the touch-points in a supply chain and can actually be a vehicle for generating increased revenue for an airline as part of a valued service offering?” To answer that question, AEROTUF embarked on a journey that married the strict ULD regulatory framework with its skills in material science and manufacturing, and the AeroTHERM range of containers were born. 

AeroTHERM is a range of containers that are thermally insulated using proprietary materials that have been developed in-house. The technology in these materials is flexible enough to allow AEROTUF to be available in a variety of insulation values and ULD formats, so that highly valuable perishable cargo will be protected from the extremes of temperature in a supply chain, which can ultimately destroy its contents in minutes. Pherson believes “it’s all part of our vision for a simpler, flexible and more profitable supply chain for our customers and end users, that answer questions being asked on how to enhance airline service offerings in key growth areas”.

As well as cutting out on the need for ancillary items such as thermal blankets and vast amounts of additional cooling material, that can go straight to landfill once used, the AeroTHERM remains relatively light when compared with a standard ULD. Additionally, the AeroTHERM is durable enough that, when being repositioned, it can be used as a regular container for standard cargo such as baggage. In fact, According to T. Pherson, “flexibility is key. As we look to move out of the COVID-19 period and we all look to get on with the business of growth, every organization involved with moving the products that drive commerce is going to need to be able to do a lot more with the assets it deploys. With Performance Driven ULD’s like AeroTHERM, we know that these can be used to generate revenue and profit, rather than being viewed as a regular ULD, which as we all know is an essential, dependable friend but ultimately a depreciating asset” 

We cannot forget the sustainability aspect to this innovation. Being green is essential, “we only have one planet, and everyone needs to do their part” (T, Pherson). It is estimated that 40-45% of food is lost through the supply chain, and 30% of that is due to poor handling. In Pherson’s view, “AeroTHERM plays a role in reducing this by making perishable products easier to handle and protect from spoilage.”

And so we look to the future… At the moment, more than ever, the future is the great unknown as we all hopefully begin to move out of the shadow of COVID-19. AEROTUF feels very sure that perishable demand in the Global economy will remain strong, but with routes being temporarily cut as a result of COVID-19, will the routes still be running? Some say it’s just too early to tell. Fortunately, the AeroTHERM range has the flexibility that it can be used for cargo and baggage too, so if perishables need to be shipped in one direction, the containers can be filled with anything an airline desires on the way back.

Developments like AeroTHERM, coupled with its innovation mindset have brought AEROTUF some significant partnership opportunities. We have worked very closely with Sonoco Thermosafe in the development their new Pegasus container, which is a ULD designed to keep high value pharmaceutical goods in very tightly controlled temperature ranges. As well as this, there are other new product development projects signed, sealed and underway with two other multi-billion-dollar organizations. Pherson explains “they need to remain confidential at this time, but we are hoping that as 2020 progresses, we will be able to share more on these genuinely exciting developments… Watch this space!”