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For two decades now, Jettainer has been managing containers and pallets for a growing number of airline customers around the globe. Today, our company operates the most efficient fleet of Unit Load Devices (ULDs) at 500 locations, serving some of the world’s largest and most renowned airlines. As we celebrate the 20 years anniversary of our establishment on April 27, 2004, we are taking a moment to look back on milestones, challenges, and personal memories with our executives over the years.

But we need to go back a little further to the start of the story. As early as the beginning of the 2000s, Dr Mohammad Seiraffi, who later became the first Managing Director of Jettainer, remembers discussions with Jean-Peter Jansen, then head of Lufthansa Cargo, about increasing ULD efficiency and reducing the associated costs. Many options were discussed and rejected, from leasing models like the ones available for sea freight containers for some time to using air freight containers as advertising space. “Chris Sapyta introduced us to TrenStar and their pooling model for sea freight containers. From then on, we were eager to transfer this model to air freight containers.”



Picture: The last and the first CEO, Dr Jan-Wilhelm Breithaupt and Dr Mohammad Seiraffi in June 2024

A business plan was drawn up, and a suitable name was sought. The first suggestion – Startainer – was not quite right. A Jet gas station, glowing in the evening light, provided the inspiration for Jettainer. “The name has everything: aviation, international business, and strength.” Now it was time to lay more foundations, but above all to do a lot of convincing.”

Alongside supporters of the idea, quite a few critics felt that ULD management was an essential role for airlines that could not simply be outsourced. This phrase was often heard at Jettainer over the years. And yet, it was possible. Dr Seiraffi and all his successors proved this with growing success. “You need the right team, too, and that’s exactly what we put together at the start and then gradually expanded over the years.” Today, three of the company’s just under 100 employees have travelled the entire journey from day one. More than 25 have remained loyal to Jettainer for ten or more years.


“The first step in transforming our idea into a functioning company was to define what ULD management is. What do customers need, and how can we make it happen?” Jettainer needed a wide range of requirements and simulations, as well as TrenStar’s help and experience, to come up with the answers and develop suitable software solutions. “In addition to setting up IT systems, finding solutions, developing contracts and recruiting more staff, we aimed to grow faster than our business plan envisaged. Because we wanted to become independent as soon as possible and stand on our own two feet,” Dr Seiraffi recalls, thinking back on their exciting early days. At that time, Jettainer worked like a start-up, sharing many roles among a few people but focusing on showing a great deal of dedication and having fun.


And it paid off. US Airways was signed as a customer in the very first year, and Jettainer turned a profit. Swiss, which awarded Jettainer the title of best supplier after just one year and is still a customer today, and other airlines followed literally right up to Dr Seiraffi’s last day at work. “We spent four years winning over United Airlines. When they heard that I would be leaving Jettainer at the end of the year, they signed the contract on December 31. Sorry Alex,” he laughs, referencing his successor Alexander Linden, who took over the reins at the beginning of 2008 and, in his own words, found a “company like a perfect engineering product, ripe for further expansion.”




In light of this, Linden initially focused on becoming more relevant for airlines to forge sales contacts and events. “We have honed our positioning by embarking on innovation projects, like containers made from composite materials instead of aluminum, and with a clear promise to reduce costs by at least 20 per cent.” A pivotal moment was Jettainer’s signing of the contract with Etihad. “It sent an important message to our company about what we can achieve and a strong signal to the market, which attracted more attention.”


And Linden has continued on this journey with new customers such as Alitalia, American Airlines and India’s Jet Airways. At that time, Rammohan Krishnaswamy, known in the industry as Ram, was the negotiating partner on the airline's side. A supporter of ULD outsourcing from the outset and a valued negotiating partner, he switched sides in 2023 and has been General Manager for Jettainer ever since.


Jettainer has made key decisions for the years ahead, including the introduction of new business areas such as cool container management and a ULD leasing service, as well as taking customer reporting digital. The company has also launched a pioneering AI project with the University of Cologne. 

“We knew we needed to take a different approach to unlock additional potential for improving management efficiency. Instead of moving higher, faster, further, we had to become smarter.” 

The project, therefore, looked for ways to analyze the enormous amount of data using algorithms or AI approaches to further improve decision-making. “We also had the full backing of Lufthansa Cargo, which has been Jettainer’s sole shareholder since 2009. In retrospect, it was an extremely exciting and promising time. Our strong parent company and a highly innovative product allowed us to navigate international waters like a speedboat.”

Picture: Alexander Linden at Jettainer's 20th anniversary in June 2024


On the company’s tenth anniversary, Carsten Hernig took the helm at a time when the company was finally coming of age. “It was an exciting time when we had new experiences and faced a steep learning curve because many things were happening for the first time. For example, we sometimes chose not to make an offer to a potential new customer if conditions required it and had to learn how to deal with customer bankruptcies such as Jet Airways and airberlin.”


Nonetheless, the company grew steadily with every challenge and with the addition of many new customers. Still initiated by Alexander Linden, Hernig signed a contract with American Airlines. 

“The world’s largest airline was now our customer – a huge challenge, but one that we successfully mastered with our amazing team.” 

And it was the prelude to further international growth with our own office in the US and beyond. “We have always put the customer at the heart of what we do, including spontaneous intercontinental flights. As a service provider, we were keen to react quickly, find solutions, and be on site. That sometimes involved long evenings in front of the computer with takeout pizza. But even though some acquisitions turned out to be a marathon, we were motivated to get back to work every day.”

Picture: Carsten Hernig

“I am proud to this day that we got involved in AI so early on and have continued to explore and leverage its possibilities. AI is now a relevant technology that everyone is talking about.” Innovation has always been an integral part of Jettainer’s corporate strategy. “But we also faced setbacks every now and then, for example, when developing our own lightweight containers. Motivated by a desire to become more sustainable, an issue that has gained more and more momentum over the years, we have also become a sales partner for squAIR-timber, for example. This outstanding product can significantly reduce the high consumption of wood used in cargo structures in the air cargo sector.”

After leaving Jettainer for new opportunities, Hernig moved first to Brazil and then to PACTL in Shanghai in 2023. “It felt like just a week later that I had my successor, Thomas Sonntag, on the phone talking about potential growth for Jettainer in China. I’m really pleased that we have now been able to take the first step together towards a partnership that others will follow.”


In 2019, Thomas Sonntag took up his new role with ambitious growth targets in the Asian market for ULD management, which has strong potential, and further innovation projects. The Columbus initiative came up with ideas for further development. Contrary to expectations, though, many of these ideas quickly became obsolete. Instead of growth, the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated slump in air traffic led to significant losses in business. Nonetheless, Jettainer did not post a loss in those years, something that, as Sonntag proudly stressed, has never happened in the past 20 years.


Jettainer now needed to adapt and capitalize on opportunities for repatriation and charter flights. “The pandemic years were a time when we had to make tough decisions. We looked at the ideas from Columbus to see what would help us to survive. Looking back, I am delighted that we managed to get through those two years without any redundancies.” Although the Jettainer family that Dr Seiraffi founded had grown considerably, it was still together. “A new financing model ultimately saved us and allowed us to take flight after the end of the pandemic.”


We also used this time to strengthen our portfolio of products, consisting of ULD Select, cool&fly and lease&fly, and to expand our basic plug&fly offering. “We gained further insights into ways to optimize the use of our ULDs by creating digital twins for each of our units.” Jettainer also evolved the sharing platform skypooling and launched a partnership with Pallet Net Zero for light nets. “All of these steps have helped us and will help us to be more sustainable and remain the market-leading ULD management company.”


“After Columbus and COVID-19, customer growth was the third big ‘C’ of my tenure. We integrated seven new customers in one year alone – a Herculean task and an outstanding achievement by the entire team.”


Jettainer had returned to its development trajectory. The fourth ‘C’ in Sonntag’s tenure was a new ‘company setup’. The company, which was still very much concentrated at the headquarters in Raunheim, underwent further restructuring and was made more international. From an operational and sales perspective, our business is now structured into four regions of the world with General Managers close to the customer. “We are now represented in Singapore and Hong Kong, too, as important gateways for expansion in Asia and have completed our transformation into a truly international company.”


In this new structure, Jettainer is ready for further growth. The fifth and final ‘C’ marks a return to the beginning: Columbus 2.0. With it, the company will work to answer the question of what comes next.

“And I couldn’t be happier that this question will be answered by Dr Jan-Wilhelm Breithaupt, a colleague with great expertise, a lot of experience with customers and plenty of ambition and ideas for digital transformation.”

Picture: Thomas Sonntag welcoming Dr Jan-Wilhelm Breithaupt at Jettainer's 20th anniversary in June 2024


Let’s find out how we can add value to your operation with our ULD competence. Contact us easily at or get in touch with our sales colleagues.


Let’s find out how we can add value to your operation with our ULD competence. Contact us easily at or get in touch with our sales colleagues.