All in the same boat

posted on 12th December 2018

The shared challenges and responsibilities of airport management are significant and diverse – and they affect airports, airlines and handlers alike

A session at the 31st IATA Ground Handling Conference (IGHC) held in Doha earlier this year considered how, with air traffic set to increase over the next decade, there will be a growing demand for efficiently managed airports. There is a need to ease congestion, comply with environmental regulations and ensure the safety of passengers and staff, while minimising hassle for travellers.
What can the various stakeholders in the airport community do to meet these challenges? Panellists from across the industry shared their views.
Liam Bolger, head of airside, London Luton Airport Operations
“The main challenges today and tomorrow can only be resolved if we learn from His Excellency, Akbar Al Baker (Qatar Airways Group CEO). Here at IGHC, he called for tight partnerships united by a clear vision. This is both simple and complicated… A three-year contract with tight SLAs and not enough money to execute it can’t work. Putting the minimum in for maximum out is not working. So, we need to look at how we can become true partners. Things need to move a lot quicker if we are to cope with 8 billion passengers by 2036.
“We need to get everyone on the same journey. The airport should lead the action. For instance we have a ground handling app in development that will make things more efficient. And in January 2017 we looked at the alignment of cultures to develop the Luton Safety Stack and initiatives like the adoption of the IATA Ground Operations Manual (with adaptations for Luton) to harmonise ground handling procedures across the Stack partnership.
“We need to cooperate as airports to improve performance. People know what makes sense; there’s a lot of good stuff out there but no one is trying it together. Are there silos? Handlers like Menzies, for instance, are perfectly entitled to run things how they see fit. What’s important is the interface between their business, the airport, the airlines and everyone else. We need data sharing and a platform to enable that.
“It’s worth remembering that you won’t be in business long if you kill everyone around you. We all have privileges and obligations.”

Andy Lord, executive vice president Europe, Middle East, Africa and India, Menzies Aviation
“There are hierarchies in the industry but we are all trying to deliver the same service, with quality, safety and security. We all need to be seen to be equals and work together. In many airports, handlers are the sole representatives of airlines on the ground, but they are still seen as the third leg of the stool, and not involved in key decisions. We’re all under cost pressure and trying to deliver a return for shareholders – but everyone needs to recognise the value of the whole package that’s being provided.
“Standardisation has to be the way forward. Variation creates complexity and risk. We are yet to be approached by two airlines wanting to do bag tracking in the same way – but we have to comply with their procedures to comply with IATA Resolution 753 – plus work with the airport… So, the risk is that we are adding cost and complexity while not achieving what we’re trying to do! Standardisation is key.
“As an industry, we’re good at applying new regulations but not so good at reviewing old ones that may not be relevant anymore. For instance in terms of security: the threat has changed, as has the technology. We may need to remove or review some legacy regulations that are no longer relevant or necessary.
“40 years ago, the ground handling didn’t exist as such. Now, we have the opportunity to decide how to do things and take that to airports, then develop service level agreements for each customer within the capabilities of the airport, etc. Currently, contract negotiations are stopping us from having conversations about more strategic points. We all have to make a commercial return or we won’t survive; at the moment, there is still too much of a perception that handlers are not doing enough to drive cost, efficiency or innovation, but in fact we have to be doing this because we are at the bottom of the food chain in the way the industry is currently structured. We need to close the loop – reinvest for continuous improvements, future technologies etc. It’s the same for all of us – we have the same objective.
“Identifying common problems is a great starting point; then we can work towards common solutions. For example, GSE pooling at Luton has increased. Top management signs off on the concept and it gets done using the right people – the guys who are doing the job day in, day out. It’s easier with a small community, but still pockets can be done even at a large international airport. You can start it in a zone to demonstrate it works and then roll it out, for instance. Success breeds success. People at the front line see that, and come up with more ideas.”

Mohammed Aziz, advisor to the chairman, Middle East Airlines
“First, we need to decide common objectives so we can build service level agreements based on those. This is where standardisation comes in. It makes life easier for all; having everyone doing things the same way is the best way to keep costs down.
“Airlines are the common denominators, then business model differentiators. We need to focus on the airlines. If we don’t agree on how to do things, we will keep wasting money, time and capacity. Ways to increase capacity when space is limited include, for example, using quieter GSE to make night operations possible.
“We need to make passenger processing faster so that passengers can spend more time in duty free. There is nothing the handler or the airport can do about that – it’s up to the authorities.”

Gordon Anyimu, acting director, ground services, Kenya Airways
“There are challenges in infrastructure, safety and security. Above all that, we must consider the customer’s experience, and how to meet their expectations sustainably. Technology is key. We have to align ourselves so we are efficient in all we do.
“Airports could help handlers by locating aircraft types in the same area so GSE is nearer. This would save time and fuel, and it would be safer. Gate segregation is often by airline – it depends on the airport’s design.
“Training is a burden without standardisation. We also have to employ so much resource (because not all staff are able to work within all standard operating procedures), which raises running costs. We almost have to have a dedicated team for each airline, rather than risk penalties for not fulfilling service level agreements. Standardisation across airports will help airlines – it’s a win-win. |