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Whilst we were waiting for a late crew bag to arrive at work (which never did incidentally), I was sat up in the bulk cargo compartment of an A330 tonight. I stayed up there to load the stuff which did actually go in there though, so I thought I'd take a few pics of it and explain what all the stuff is, since most people never get to see this kind of thing. Hope you find it interesting. The aircraft in these pictures is G-CHTZ, a Thomas Cook Airbus A330-200 with two Rolls Royce Trent 700 engines, Maker's Serial No: 398. It is almost eighteen years old. The aeroplane was on Stand 29 of Pier C at EGCC Manchester Airport.

So, to explain about what the bulk cargo compartment is and what it is for... On an Airbus A330, situated below the sixth window from the rear on the lower half of the fuselage's starboard side, there is a small inwards-opening cargo hatch door, it is alongside and aft of the much larger rear cargo door where containers are loaded. The lower sill of this small bulk cargo compartment hatch entrance is eleven feet up from the ground, and one hundred and fifty-five feet from the nose of the aeroplane. The entrance when the door is open, is just slightly over three feet wide and three and a half feet tall, but when you get through it, you can easily stand up inside the rear bulk cargo compartment itself.

The A330 carries most of its cargo and passenger baggage in large ULD 'cans' placed in the main front and rear cargo holds, but the rear bulk cargo compartment is available for any late check in bags as well as for the crew's baggage, which has its own specialised section of this compartment to prevent the crew's bags from being accidentally offloaded with the passenger's baggage if the aircraft is on a turnaround. And if you've ever wondered where all the blankets and pillows are put that airlines ferry about, they go in that rear bulk cargo compartment too. This stuff can be loaded late and placed in there without worrying too much about the CoG since there is only so much stuff you can get in there, or ever would put in there, so on such a large aeroplane it doesn't make a lot of difference to its CoG.

Below is a pic of the hatchway door for the bulk cargo compartment. From this view, the tail of the aeroplane is to your right. Outside you can see one of the yellow collapsible safety rails of the conveyor belt which has been driven up to this doorway and raised up to allow baggage to come up. Next to that, to the left, you can see the raised platform of the high loader which is loading the ULD 'cans' into the rear hold through the larger cargo door. There are two ULD cans on its raised platform which are just about to be rolled into the cargo hold. This platform has powered rollers which can move the ULDs in and out of the hold and onto the ULD trailers, the powered rollers can also rotate the ULDs so they are facing the correct way when they go into the aeroplane. The large rear hold where those cans go is only separated from this rear bulk cargo compartment by a canvas curtain, so you can actually get to that hold from where I was when this pic was taken, but usually the curtain is kept fastened.


Here's another pic of the high loader with its platform lowered. You can see some ULD 'cans' on the trailers. If you've ever wondered what all that stuff on the side of those ULDs means, here goes... There are several sizes of these ULDs (Unit Load Devices) and all passenger and cargo aeroplanes are designed around the standard sizes of these cans. This is one of the reasons why a lot of airliners look very similar. In the case of these ULDs, they of the type 'AKE' which it says on the cans themselves. The A330 can carry lots of these, it can fit two of these AKEs across the width of its fuselage and so that's quite a few in both its front and rear holds. Each ULD has a number unique to it so its location in the world can be tracked. You can also see the letter MT on these ULDs, and that is because they are being used by Thomas Cook Airlines, whose identifying code is 'MT' because Thomas Cook Airlines used to be 'My Travel' airlines several years ago and they retain the code from those days. So if you see a ULD with 'AKE 100046 MT' on it, you know its type, unique identifier and which airline is using it. You can also make out the logo for Jettainer, which is the company which many airlines lease their ULDs from.


Here's another pic of the conveyor after the high loader had finished and was driven off out of the way:


Just immediately to the left of you when sitting in the doorway as in the picture above, you would see this:


This is the net which fastens over a small netted off area which is specifically for the crew's baggage. Since that crew baggage has not been loaded yet on this picture, at this point you can see the grey curtain behind it which divides this rear bulk cargo compartment from the cargo compartment where the ULDs have been loaded. So if that curtain was not there, you would see the ULDs. You can see from the shape of the wall exactly why those ULDs have an angled cut out on their lower half and why you have to make sure they are facing the correct way when you load them on board.

On some A330s (not many), the area which is normally sectioned of for crew baggage, is instead taken up by an access ladder, via which, you can actually get into the main passenger cabin. On most airliners it simply is not possible to get into the cargo holds from within the cabin, despite this being portrayed as possible in a lot of action movies, but on some A330s, you genuinely can do that.

Moving back a bit from the doorway and turning to the right on this view, you can see the back part of this hold, where it gets smaller with the taper of the tail of the aeroplane. The net on the left is the one which secures the crew baggage compartment. The net on the right fastens across to the net in the middle to isolate the rear cargo area and prevent stuff moving in flight, where it might potentially fall against the door and either damage it or prevent it from being opened, and lastly, the middle net fastens across the doorway, also to prevent cargo from hitting the doorway. All of these nets have to be fastened up for departure.


Here's another pic looking straight toward the tail. The big alloy box which is strapped down is the remote equipment case. It has all the common bits and pieces you'd need to fix the aeroplane if it was at a remote airport. Basically it is the same as what you do with your car when you carry a few tools and spares for it in the back.


Having turned right again so that my back was facing the entrance hatchway, below is a pic of the view when facing that way. Pretty much any airliner you ever look in will have stuff left in there from previous flights such as tie-down straps and bits of busted suitcases etc although airports and airlines are becoming more strict about this and we now clear all that stuff out as part of our security checks for the holds of aeroplanes. 


On the floor of the above picture, you can see several metal fittings. Aeroplane holds are full of these things, they are attachment points for the special cargo tie down spring-loaded locking rings which are used to secure things such as nets, cargo straps, ropes etc. Below is a close up of one of these attachment points:


And below you can see how a spring loaded ring clip goes into one of these fittings. You press the spring plunger which makes a flanged head pop out, then you slide that into the middle of the fitting, let go and the spring retracts the flanged head and locks it in place. To release it, you put your thumb of the spring-loaded plunger, grab the two angled bits with your fingers, then press with your thumb and that unlocks it so you can slide it out:


Here's another pic of one of those clips in place:


If you were ever curious about how the pilots can get a warning in their cockpit on the MFDs about which doors are not closed and locked, here's how. The doors all have a sensor on them, and this is the one for the rear bulk cargo compartment door:


Below you can see the rearmost part of the bulk cargo compartment after I've loaded all the pillows, blankets and a couple of late arriving bags into there and fastened up the net:


So there you go, a bit of the plane which you don't normally get to see. 🙂

Edited by Chock
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Edited by Chock

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whoa - thank you.  Had so much fun reading this.  Fascinating stuff....

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