ULD Certification

Guaranteeing the airworthiness of our air cargo products

The importance of certified ULDs

Unit Load Devices (ULDs) are used to transport cargo of all shapes and sizes. But their value extends far beyond loading efficiency and consignment protection. ULDs are also essential to flight safety, whether they come as aircraft containers or as pallet/net combinations.

A ULD can only be loaded into an aircraft after its airworthiness has been proven. That is because it must be directly restrained by the aircraft’s Cargo Loading System. Proof of airworthiness comes in the form of EASA or FAA certification. If a ULD is not certified, it can’t be placed in the Cargo Loading System.

VRR is extremely experienced in getting standard and customised ULDs certified. That expertise has led to a wide range of certified air cargo products that meet not only our customers’ needs but also aviation safety standards.

ULD certification standards

The most common certification standards for ULDs are the Technical Standards Orders (TSOs), which are set by the FAA and EASA. 

We work to the requirements set out in ETSO C90 by EASA. This European Technical Standard Order covers all aspects of a standard ULD, from design, testing and production to operations, repair and maintenance. As long as we comply with all the applicable parts, you have an airworthy ULD and not simply a metal box.

There are occasions when a ULD does not meet the TSO standard. Perhaps because it needs to carry a certain type of cargo or be loaded onto a specific type of aircraft. In cases like these, we have to get a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC). VRR is actually authorised by EASA to issue STCs, which is how we manage to get even customised ULDs certified.

Our ULD certification team

We have a team of six compliance engineers dedicated to the certification of our ULDs. They are specialised in making sure every single ULD meets the right standard and is provided with the corresponding proof.

Meeting aviation safety standards isn’t easy. They are set high for good reason. So manufacturers like VRR must prove conclusively—through testing and analysis—that a ULD can withstand a high load while restrained in an aircraft’s hold and in accordance with TSO and other standards.

Once our team has convinced EASA that the design, testing and manufacturing meets the approved standards, the ULD can be classed as certified. Certified ULDs can be accepted for use on any type of aircraft as long as they are compatible with the plane’s loading and restraint systems and its contour.

Certified vs. non-certified ULDs

Although non-certified containers are manufactured to the same standards as certified containers, they still need indirect approval from the airline (carrier) before they can be loaded onto a plane.

Airlines are free to decide which types of ULD may or may not be loaded on their aircraft. However, many ULDs are transferred between aircraft and even other airlines before reaching their destination. Therefore, there is always a risk that a non-certified ULD cannot complete the planned journey.

Certified ULDs, on the other hand, can be accepted for use on any type of aircraft as long as they are compatible with the plane’s loading and restraint systems and its contour. Therefore, it is usually safer and more convenient to use certified ULDs.

What does the certification process look like?

The process for getting a ULD certified can be broken down into six broad steps

  1. Determine which requirements apply to the ULD's design
  2. Determine how we can achieve compliance with the requirements
  3. Evaluate the design to ensure that it complies with the requirements
  4. Ensure the design is not overengineered
  5. Submit calculations and test results to the regulatory authority
  6. Receive approval for use from the regulatory authority

Read more about this process in the article on certification.

How long does it take to get a ULD certified?

The time it takes to get a ULD certified depends on whether it’s a completely new design or a modification on an existing design. If we are just modifying the design, it may take us just a couple of days to run the compliance analyses.

The certification of a standard design that’s been customised usually takes us about a week of analysis, although it largely depends on the complexity of the customisation.

The most labour-intensive certification process is for new and innovative designs. These can take at least 200 hours of analysis, testing and documenting to make sure they are structurally sound.