Cimber Sterling: a very active partner in the development of ground services

posted on 5th June 2018

Rikke H Pallesen (RHP), Director Ground Operations, at Cimber Sterling tells Airline Ground Services (AGS) that the airline strives to offer the best service to all its passengers. However, for the competitive business market, time is of the essence and it is constantly working to make processes as lean as possible. Cimber Sterling is introducing Altea DCS in order to be able to offer more self-service, starting with the business market and expanding to the leisure market

AGS       Cimber Sterling operates a business model which appears to have four planks to it (domestic operations in Denmark, shuttles to European cities, a leisure route network and charter operation). However, when it comes to procurement, to what extent do you (in general terms) favour the traditional low-cost airline business model of outsourcing all non-core operations like passenger, baggage and ramp handling?

CS           We favour the outsourcing of all ground handling. All handling is currently outsourced apart from landside handling at three domestic stations.

AGS       How do you handle passenger check-in, baggage check-in and ramp operations in the Danish market and how do you work with domestic airports/agents to achieve this?

CS           We prefer to outsource ground handling if the quality of the handling and the charges agree with our concept. Only three domestic stations are currently handled by QI staff – landside only as this is currently the most cost efficient solution, as the staff carry out back office task in between flights. The existing airport handling at these particular stations offer little or no landside handling to other airlines. All domestic stations are ramp/baggage handled by the airport handling operation – except at Copenhagen which is handled by SGH. We work closely together with the domestic airport – including Copenhagen – to make sure that all operational/strategic needs of Cimber Sterling are catered for.

AGS       When it comes to international destinations – either European cities or international leisure locations – to what extent do you choose to work with third-party handling companies? How do you go about selecting them? How far do you supervise them? What contract terms do you prefer (short and flexible or long-term and like partner)?

CS           For all international destinations we work with third-party handlers/airport handlers. When a new destination is introduced, we contact all suitable (must have systems in place to handle an interline carrier) handling agents at the location for their proposal. A safety/security assessment (checklists based on EU-OPS, IOSA, etc) is made before a contract is signed. Once the contract is signed, the handling agent will be supervised/controlled according to schedule by our Ground Control Department. Furthermore audits are carried out by our Quality Department.

AGS       Do you prefer large network handlers or do you seek out niche handlers that provide services specific to an individual location?

CS           We generally work with network handlers as we usually do not require any specialised services.

AGS       Do leisure passengers have to be handled differently to business passengers in terms of baggage, check-in counters, passenger flows?

CS           We strive to offer the best service to all our passengers. However, for the competitive business market, time is of the essence and we are constantly working to make the processes as lean as possible. Business passengers are often experienced travellers and will quickly embrace new technology introduced. We are currently introducing Altea DCS in order to be able to offer more self-service, starting with the business market and expanding to the leisure market.

In general, leisure passengers do not have to be handled differently, and they too are looking for technology that can make their journey as smooth as possible. The leisure passengers will only be handled differently if they are travelling on a charter flight (all seats controlled by one or more tour operators). With these flights, the check-in set-up at the airports is agreed with the tour operator, depending on when they require and what details they can deliver (in terms of using technology).

Ramp handling is identical regardless of the type of flights, as procedures are laid down according to law and regulation.

AGS       What is the policy in relation to automating check-in across the airline using kiosks, SMS and web check-in? To what extent do you embrace the new technologies coming on-stream, especially at Copenhagen?

CS           We have positive expectations for all new technologies. Our aim is the offer SMS and web-check in for all stations, which is why we are currently migrating to Altea DCS. Additionally, for Copenhagen, we are currently testing self-boarding.

AGS       Presumably, when you engage in whole aircraft charter, you no longer have influence over the handling of your aircraft on the ramp? Is that the case? 

CS           We have full control and influence for all charter flights, apart from ACMI operations. ACMI operations are carried out on the marketing carriers’ handling contracts. However, audits, supervision and control are still carried out for the ACMI stations.

AGS       For your own operations, how do you ensure that ramp operations are as safe as possible? Do you look for ISAGO accreditation? Do you perform audits? Do you monitor your SLAs very closely? Do you penalise and incentivise?

CS           We do recognise ISAGO accreditation, but this is not a requirement yet, as many handling agents are still in the process of being certified.

We assess the handling agent according to a QI checklist, based on safety requirements from IOSA and EU OPS. Our supervision/control program for handling agents includes pre-contractual assessment, and yearly assessments by our Ground Control Department, where SLAs are also monitored. All stations will also be audited by our Cimber Sterling Quality Department.  Bonus/penalty arrangements are used actively at selected stations.

AGS       Do any elements of your fleet require special handling or handling equipment? Or is your ATR, Bombardier and 737 fleet fairly straight forward to handle?

CS           As for all aircraft, some procedures are “type specific”, such as de-icing, etc. The handling agents will make themselves acquainted with these procedures through the Cimber Sterling Ground Operational Manual.

AGS       Do you carry belly freight? If so, what arrangements have you put in place to handle that?

CS           We do have cargo agreements in place for selected stations. The agreement for the handling of cargo is not necessarily signed with the existing handling agent. As cargo handling is subcontracted, it is also supervised and audited by Cimber Sterling.

AGS       Do you welcome the consolidation in the ground handling market in your region or has this not affected you? Are you expecting greater investment and higher service levels? What is the outlook?

CS           We have not been directly affected for the time being. For our major stations (hubs) we would welcome more competition rather than consolidation.

AGS       Are you investing in IT to help manage the handling function as well as departure control and flight management? To what extent does IT assist with airline ground services?

CS           We have just invested in Altea DCS – Customer Management. Our IT Department is a very active partner in the development of ground services.