Ground Services

dnata boss urges US to implement ground handling regulations after EASA proposals

dnata boss urges US to implement ground handling regulations after EASA proposals
Steve Allen says standardisation is going to make operations safer and more efficient (Image credit: dnata)

Last week, ARGS was invited by dnata to tour its Dubai headquarters and airport facilities. We took this opportunity to find out more about how the ground handler will work with EASA to implement the body’s recently proposed ground handling regulations at EU airports.

Having welcomed the proposals in January, dnata CEO, Steve Allen, believes the industry’s next step is to standardise operations globally.

The boss states that “the US has the most dangerous ground operations in the world” and therefore “safety on the ground is not as it should be”. This is what Allen had to say in full.

How is dnata working or going to work with the EASA to implement its newly proposed ground handling regulations, and would you welcome greater standardisation of operations globally?

I was the chairman of ASA [the Airport Services Association] for three years and while I was there, I was also the vice chairman of the ground operations group in IATA. At that time, I was pushing really, really hard for standardisation [and] setting a minimum set of requirements.

We as an industry have been working on this for many years through the IGOM [IATA Ground Operations Manual] which has been designed by ground handlers for ground handlers, and we believe this should be the standard way of operating a ground handling operation.

Airports are very complex places where everything interacts with everybody [and] everything else. And the only way we’re going to make airports safe is by having some minimum standards that everybody adheres to, to try and make the operation as simple as possible [to ensure] that people can be easily trained, the people know what each other are doing and that airlines understand what the ground handlers are doing.

Standardisation is going to make operations safer, it’s going to make them more efficient, and therefore, at the end of the day, it’s a great thing for the industry to do.

EASA came to us when I was chairman of ASA and said ‘we’re looking at how we can standardise operations at airports’ – and I just [said to them] ‘don’t reinvent the wheel, don’t start again and have lots of working groups, working from the ground up. We’ve got the IGOM over here, which we’ve developed over 20 years, so why don’t you just adopt that?’.

Of course, like great government institutions, they like to invest a bit of time and effort into making it their own. We had people who represented the ground handlers, including dnata people, on the EASA working groups, trying to align the EASA regulations to what we already do.

And I think, thankfully, that’s more or less what they’ve done. They’re pretty well aligned. And then when you set that minimum set of requirements, you know that you can run a safe operation, and it’s up to the good companies to say, ‘I’m going to be the best at running that operation and I’m going to add the cherry on top of that bun that makes us better than everybody else’.

But at least what we won’t have is the unsafe operations and people who don’t invest in equipment, who don’t invest in people, who don’t invest in training, running around us, creating hassle and creating a mess.

That’s why I’m an advocate, [and I think that] at least this is a minimum requirement. I’m pretty confident that we already adhere to all the EASA standards – so we’ve already met that minimum bar.

The one place I welcome it to go next is the US. I think the US has the most dangerous ground operations in the world. There are too many handlers at stations and the requirements to become a ground handler are far too low, they are far too poorly policed. As a result of that the safety on the ground is not as it should be.

Why do you think it’s taken EASA so long to implement these regulations, given the long campaign from ground handlers to introduce them?

These organisations have priorities, and this clearly hasn’t been top of the priority list for them. Aviation has always been focused on air safety, quite rightly, because that’s the biggest risk that we’ve got.

And so you see air safety being very, very highly regulated, but the ground just hasn’t been regulated in the same way. And I think that’s because there isn’t the [same] level of risk, but I think also they’ve got a lot on their plate.

If you’re the European Union, you’ve got so many issues to resolve – is this going to be the top priority for you? Whilst we might think it’s absolutely essential, and Fabio [Gamba, the director general of ASA] might think it’s the most important thing, because that’s his job to think that, he’s still got to get it up the priority list and make it happen. But more power to him.