Bangkok Flight Services: a clean sheet operation

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Bangkok Flight Services (BFS) is a joint venture between Worldwide Flight Services and Bangkok Airways of Thailand. Based upon both an equity and management agreement, and put in place in 2006 to serve airlines at Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), BFS is led by Managing Director Stewart Sinclair. Airline Ground Services talks to him

The handler arrived on the scene with the coming on stream of the new BKK airport. With a blank sheet of paper on which to build its business, BFS has been in the happy position of being able to construct a business from the outset that matches the demand for its services to its facilities. BFS offers full passenger, ramp and cargo handling services at BKK for all types of aircraft, from private charters to full service carriers, including A380 operators. With more than 40 airlines served and 3,300 staff on the payroll, the joint venture is a significant clean sheet operation of passenger, ramp and cargo handling with a good strength in cargo.

“As BKK was a new airport when we started operations, BFS was able to design and build our own tailor-made cargo facility of 55,000m2 at an investment of over US$35 million,” points out Sinclair. The cargo operation is extensive as shown by Table 1. “We use Cargospot Cargo Management System to manage our terminal and have additionally developed in-house a number of software systems to support the day to day management of the terminal, including roster management and staff planning.”

When it comes to cargo security, BFS has invested heavily. “We have five x-ray machines [see Table 1] to screen cargo and we employ an outside specialist security provider to manage facility security, staff and visitor screening and cargo x-ray,” says Sinclair. “We have our own Safety & Security Team to manage the outsource provider.”

Processes, procedures and systems are constantly reviewed in order to meet customer demands. “This has included the development of automated messaging to our customers for cargo departure and arrival information, web based online track and trace and a web based FWB/FHL entry screen which allows our customers to input HAWB information via the web,” he says.

BFS undertakes its own extensive training for staff, both initial and recurrent. “All of our staff go through an initial BFS training course to offer basic skills and familiarisation with the industry. This includes DGR Training, human factors, aviation security, pallet building, safe lifting, airport codes, customer service etc,” explains Sinclair. “Staff are then assigned to a work area and further training occurs which may include customer product training, equipment operation and special cargo handling. All training is undertaken to IATA standards and BFS has certified IATA DGR Instructors.” Interestingly, BFS is in the process of certifying its training facilities to enable the handler to market this training throughout the region.

All types of cargo are handled at BFS. “A large part of our business is electronics and automotive that travels as VUN [vulnerable] cargo and for which we have developed specialised processes in conjunction with our customers to ensure security of these goods,” says Sinclair. “This includes keeping the goods under surveillance at all steps of the process from acceptance, x-ray, build-up, storage, release to the flight line and monitoring until onboard the aircraft.”

Perishable cargo handling is another large part of the business. BFS has several different temperature controlled chambers to cover ranges from -20 to +20 degrees. “Our facility is designed so that the truck docks are integrated into the PER [perishables] area so that unloading is undertaken in a cooled environment to offer an unbroken supply chain,” Sinclair adds.

BFS has also developed its own BFS Cargo CoolCare solution which offers three services to its customers to ensure that the cool chain is unbroken and that PER products are monitored and temperature protected all the way through the handling process. “For PER exporters this solution eliminates the need for dry ice and Styrofoam boxes whilst maintaining the correct storage temperature through all stages of handling,” says Sinclair. “An added benefit of this service is that it allows airlines and shippers to maximise the amount of PER uplifted in each ULD by eliminating bulky Styrofoam and the weight of dry ice.”

This enables the shipper and airline to uplift as much as 100% more cargo per ULD. BFS’s import service offers full protection from heat and monitoring through data loggers so that shippers can prove that the temperature has been maintained correctly – this is especially useful for life science products.

But cargo handling is only part of the story at BFS. It also has a significant passenger operation. When asked where BFS stands in the march towards automation, Sinclair responds: “Currently there is not much take up from our customers in BKK for automated check-in and baggage handling, mainly because Thailand is a predominantly leisure market which limits the number of frequent travellers.” The airport authority has recently introduced common user check-in facilities but so far only three of BFS’s customers have elected to use this service. As a result, BFS operates as a traditional check-in provider where the majority of passengers are served at check-in desks.

“Most of our customers use web check-in whereby passengers can pre-print their boarding passes and come to a separate bag drop area for security questioning, DGR check, visa verification/document check and bag drop,” says Sinclair, “but the number of passengers using these services is still relatively low – less than 20%. We do support the use of automation in all areas of our business and this is a regular topic of discussion with our customers but so far there has not been much interest in moving forward in BKK.”

So to what extent do BFS teams – especially those handling passengers and baggage – become an extension of its airline clients’ own teams? Sinclair responds: “One of BFS’ main benefits is our flexibility to tailoring a solution to our customers. We handle full service legacy carriers, boutique regional carriers, LCCs, long haul LCCs with or without interline arrangements plus charters, private aviation and freighters. For each customer we offer a dedicated check-in team that operates their flights from check-in to boarding.” He continues: “We actively encourage our customers to integrate the BFS team with their own team and encourage social events and team building to bring the teams closer together.”

Investment in IT is high on BFS’s list of imperatives. “We invest heavily in IT systems but have chosen to develop most of them in-house to ensure that the systems match perfectly our requirements rather than buying off the shelf products. We have a team of 15 IT professionals covering all of our requirements. The only systems we have purchased off the shelf are our cargo management software, accounting and human resources systems but we have added to these basic systems to fulfil our specific requirements,” says Sinclair. “Data security is also very high on our priority and we invest heavily in both software and hardware to protect our systems.”

GSE is another area of heavy investment. “When we commenced operations in 2006 we purchased GSE to the value of US$20 million. The purchase was undertaken through a tender open to any GSE manufacturer. Through this process we settled on a single source for all of our GSE to ensure commonality of operation and maintenance,” he explains. “This included specifying engines and transmission commonality. We have added some GSE over the years and this is also undertaken through an open bidding process with usually five-six companies involved.” Currently, all of the equipment is owned, however finance leases are in place for some equipment. Forklifts are on operating leases to include maintenance provision.

Private jet handling is also on BFS’s agenda with about 10 movements per month handled. This type of service is linked to the handler’s Premium Airport Services product that provides meet and assist services to airlines and anyone else that wants to use it. “BKK airport does not actively pursue the private jet business at BKK although it does allow it,” points out Sinclair. “Most of the private jet operators use the old airport at Don Muaeng and the airport operator encourages this.”

So what does the future hold for BFS? Will it expand beyond its BKK base? Sinclair concludes: “We are always on the lookout for opportunities at other airports in Thailand and also in neighbouring countries; however, to date, there has not been a good business case for expansion outside of Suvarnabhumi as the other airports are not well enough served year round to support us operating there.” Sinclair says he expects this to change in the next two years, especially in Phuket which is in the process of expansion from 6 million passengers per year to 12 million.

Table 1: BFS’s cargo handling capacity (24 hours)


Manpower for cargo services department 

Warehouse operations                                                                                            471 staff

Document control                                                                                                      186 staff

Facility & maintenance                                                                                             04 staff

Support services                                                                                                         07 staff

Estimated at 135-150 persons per shift                                                             3 shifts per day

BFS cargo terminal facilities size                                                                         55,370m2

Cargo warehouse                                                                                                       39, 744m2

Offices & Staff Facilities                                                                                           15,626m2

Two in-line lanes powered bypass with multi-docks

Three x-ray machines capability load 1.2 tons (acceptance)                     1,280 X 1,800mm

One x-ray machine capability load 1.2 tons (acceptance)                          1,600 X 1,800mm

One x-ray machine capability load 200kg (cold room)                                 890 X 1,000mm

Two walk through metal detectors and two personal effect X-rays

Two elevating transfer vehicles (ETV) capacity                                             456 storage positions

Including 12 positions of 10ft cold room (inside ETV’s system)

Including 6 positions of 20ft restricted area (inside ETV’s system)

Every location is 20ft pallet capable

Six build & break piers incorporating                                                                20,000m2

16 of 10ft elevated positions

4 of 20ft elevated positions

Automated storage retrieval system (ASRS) capacity                                398 bins (expandable to 1,600)

Controlled by inventory control system (ICS)

Barcode system

Over sized racking                                                                                                      2,196 positions

ULD control elevated storage                                                                               Over 700 positions

Three donkey (LEHF 75-75D) transfer vehicles                                              50 slave pallets

25 forklift vehicles capability                                                                                2.4 tons

2 forklift vehicles capability                                                                                  7 tons

Digital CCTV with video streaming                                                                     133 cameras

Over 100 dedicated aviation trained security personnel

Records up to 30 days

16,000m2 area cold room with ambient

Processing & data flows:  fully operated by cargo spot management system

DG storage capacity                                                                                                  1,200m3

HI-VAL capacity                                                                                                           700 m3

AVI storage capacity                                                                                                 850 m3