Ground Services

Calls for more innovation on the ramp at the opening of IGHC in Madrid

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The ground handling industry needs to innovate on the ramp to meet future demand and challenges of air transport, the 32nd IATA Ground Handling conference (IGHC) heard in Madrid today.

This year’s event was opened by IATA’s head of ground operations, Joseph Suidan (pictured above) who welcomed delegates. About 1,000 industry professionals are set to attend IGHC that runs until Wednesday (29 May).

After Suidan opened the event, welcome addresses were then given by Iberia Airlines chief executive, Luis Gallego Martin; AENA managing director for airports, Javier Marin; and IATA senior vice president, Nick Careen.

Martin said ground handlers are working in a more and more congested space but there are endless opportunities with the growth in air transport.

“This is a business undergoing growth and innovation,” he said before adding that the industry is vital for the seamless operations of air transport.

“Handling maybe viewed as less sexy that airline operations but it is vital for business and the future of the industry,” he added.

Marin said AENA is now the biggest airport operator in the world and last year, more than 330 million passengers came through 63 of AENA’s airports in five countries, of which 260 million were in Spain at 46 airports.

He noted that the importance of the ground handling industry in Spain, and said AENA employs more than 17,000 people across its operations and one of AENA’s key focuses is making sure ground handlers work to the highest possible operating standards.

In his address, Careen said with passenger traffic set to double in the next 20 years, it is imperative that industry is more “action orientated” and that it must “do things differently”.

He believes that if he went back to working on the ramp, it would be broadly the same as when he worked on it 20 years ago as “nothing has changed”.

Careen specifically focused on three areas that need to be the focus for the industry moving forward to meet future demand and challenges – safety, standards and innovation.

On safety he said there is more pressure on the ramp “than ever before” and called for greater collaboration and the sharing of data.

As for standards, he said more input is needed on handling so it can be used in the IATA Ground Operations Manual to drive best practice as currently it is “handcuffing” the industry.

Careen payed much attention to the need for more innovation as said there is a lack of it and the industry has not moved on.

“Nothing has changed. We do not innovate and if you compare innovation above the wing to below the wing they are very different,” he said. “Ramp operations seem to have been missed.”

“We need to invest and innovate in our ramp. The ramp is often left and it is the time to change that. More automation is needed and it is a necessity.”

Careen added: “There are opportunities abound, but we can not just keep talking about it and we must male concrete steps to build for the future.”