We in the logistics profession tend to think of transportation companies solely as service providers, not as shippers. But as an article by Tara Titcombe in the April 2012 issue of US Airways' in-flight magazine suggests, airlines have to handle inventory, warehousing, and delivery just like their cargo customers do.
US Airways operates four distribution centers (in Charlotte, N.C.; Phoenix, Ariz.; and Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Pa.) that handle maintenance stores for the airline's fleet. The Charlotte DC, which is the largest of the four, keeps about 150,000 parts on hand and processes about 550 spare parts requests each day. According to DC Manager Tim Everhart, they are processed based on their level of urgency. In 2011, the Charlotte facility shipped out some 1.5 million orders.
Large parts and oversized items are stored in racks. Small parts are stored in a six-aisle, high-bay automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) that measures 100 feet long and 60 feet high. Workers enter the desired part's tracking number into the AS/RS's computer, and cranes retrieve the appropriate storage box. The cranes then place the boxes on a conveyor for transport to the employee's workstation.
What about after the orders leave the DC? Everhart said that US Airways is so good at tracking passengers' luggage that it has integrated its baggage-tracking system into the warehouse to keep tabs on parts delivery.