The three principle ground handling stakeholders – ground handlers, airlines and airports – need to collaborate more to help develop and grow the industry, delegates heard yesterday at the 2nd AGS Global Networking Summit.
During the plenary session at the Hilton London Heathrow Terminal 4 Hotel, moderated by Des Vertannes, key decision-makers gave their insights into how business was.
Panellist Steve Allen, head of UAE airport operations at dnata, told delegates that the biggest problem in his opinion is that airports are a “total mess” and are also being developed without consultation with operators and ground handlers.
“We have this mish mash of everything trying to do business,” he said. “It makes it less safe, more expensive and people get a worse customer experience than they should be.”
The new chairman of the Airport Services Association (ASA), said ground handling should be a very simple service and seamless and safe.
“A lot of effort goes into the passenger experience but there is still a lot of work to do below the wing and on the ramp,” Allen noted.
“My view is we need more collaboration between all the entities at the airports. All the focus should be on the customer experience, as that is where we make our money.”
Fellow panellist Robert Derr, ramp and ground handling manager at Heathrow Airport, said he sees a great deal of pressure at the UK hub on ground handlers to “constantly challenge their prices” whilst delivering a quality service.
Heathrow houses more than 80 airlines and the airport sees around 470,000 air traffic movements across its two runways a year.
“I see the tension and stress between ground handlers and airlines,” Derr said. “I think ground handlers struggle to structure business when they are on three-year contracts but with 90 days notice so how do you build more robust business plans to work across that environment that can generate churn and instability.”
Heathrow has eight ground handlers providing services to airlines, but even at one of the world’s busiest hubs, where around 80 million passengers pass through a year, they face challenges.
“When we look at that part of the world, we are concerned that there is any kind of pressure to race to the bottom,” Derr said. “From the feedback from ground handlers at Heathrow, I see a constant pressure and struggle to recruit and retain staff, I see that is one of the challenges each of the handlers have. Even those at the more premium end of the market still struggle to recruit and retain people.”
Derr also touched on standardisation and he said there is a variation of ground handling standards across operators which does not have a positive effect.
“I see ground handlers handling 30 airlines with huge amounts of variation and even airlines within the same group that cannot agree standardisation for the same aircraft type,” he said. “That just drives instability and hesitation, drives a lack of consistency of process and safety.”
Derr also said that in his view, more data needs to be shared across the chain, as it would help boost operational efficiency and standards.
Panellist Samir Shaikh, station manager at Air Astana, said as an airline it relies on the ground handlers who are the “second airline”.
He noted that it can be difficult to choose an operator and in coming to a decision as to which handler is picked, the carrier looks at KPIs, customer services and reliability of the operator.
The plenary also heard of the positive impact that technology can have on ground handling in the future, and the need to invest in it.
Allen said technology has a key role to play in the future of the industry and has a “massive role” in solving any problems across ground handling.