Forward thinking

posted on 25th April 2018

The 31st IATA Ground Handling Conference, hosted by Qatar Airways and Qatar Aviation Services at the Sheraton Grand Doha Resort & Convention Hotel on 22-25 April, will look into the future of ground operations and how they interconnect with airports, terminals, aircraft and the ramp. IATA’s Ground Ops team explains

Among the topics in focus at this year’s gathering will be IATA’s NEXTT initiative, which pulls together a common vision to enhance the on-ground transport experience. NEXTT examines how the latest technological developments and innovations can be used to improve the journey for passenger, baggage, cargo and aircraft turnarounds.
Trends to push processes off-airport, deployment of more advanced technologies and automation will lead to a rapid transformation and modernisation of ground handling. This technology already has the potential to deliver efficiencies that are otherwise unachievable – but this demands real-time trusted, reliable data exchanges to make interactive decisions. Sessions on GSE pooling and autonomous/self-docking GSE will share practical experience on these topics.
In addition, the passenger’s journey – right from booking a ticket until arrival at final destination or return to home base – is increasingly in the spotlight. Concerns for increased security measures and checks are vying with ever-higher numbers of passengers moving through airports and into the transport feeder networks that serve them.
The conference will consider digitisation of the entire airport and its peripherals, as covered in the NEXTT initiative, from the airport and ramp perspectives. The aim is to make the entire process seamless, secure and efficient from the passenger’s point of view.

The shape of the future
While the traditional aircraft ‘tube, wings and tail’ shapes will be with us for quite a number of years yet, the potential use of blended wings and other radical thinking about aircraft structure and power sources are also under consideration.
Changing the shape of the aircraft will likely change the shape of the terminal because of how these differently shaped aircraft ‘plug in’ – literally and figuratively – to airport terminals.
Our passenger boarding bridges, passenger stairs, cargo loaders and all the current host of GSE are all based on docking equipment at a more or less circular cross-sectioned fuselage. Moving to a radically different shape of aircraft means re-thinking how we load and unload passengers, baggage, cargo, and food and, possibly to a lesser extent, how we deal with power, fuel, water and waste.
This means rethinking GSE and ramp operations and even ramp and aircraft parking capacity. Shifting from traditional fuel sources, both for future aircraft and future GSE, brings with it a potentially different airport terminal building design.
For example, maximum electrical energy generation can be achieved by harvesting power from optimally orientated solar panels and even wind generators that could form an integral part of airport building design, to augment the hugely increased demand for electrical power to support an all-electric aircraft and ground service vehicle fleet in addition to the already large load of current buildings.
These airport terminal structural and passenger embarking/disembarking changes are but one facet of the changes coming to our passengers as we look into the future. How all this is to be done will be the focus of the Passenger Journey session on Wednesday.
Another piece of the digitisation/integration puzzle will be tackled in a workshop on efficient load control. Currently, this relies heavily on manual processes. IATA’s Load Control and Messaging group is looking into ways in which consistency and standardisation, together with shared platforms, can not only eliminate the errors inherent in manual systems, but enhance capabilities by incorporating updates, and recalculating loads/capacity depending on cargo loading system lock/stop serviceability, fuel, water needs and more – all in real time.

Behind the scenes
Typically, the IGHC attracts over 700 delegates from over 80 different countries, sharing a wide spread of experience and opinion.
What really sets this event apart and makes it unique is that IATA backs it up with a solid foundation of ground handling expertise, or access to necessary expertise, which can be brought to bear on pretty much any aspect of the ramp and transferred to industry standards and initiatives.
In addition, with its publications and manuals, IATA has an effective means of shaping and making actual change in the industry.
Behind the scenes at IATA Ground Operations there is a structure of a Ground Operations Working Group (the GOG) and five Technical Groups comprising experts from airlines, ground service providers, manufacturers and solutions providers who all actively contribute their time and experience to ensure that what you find in the Airport Handling Manual, the IATA Ground Operations Manual, the Load Control XML Toolkit and the new Weight & Balance Information Centre will be applicable, relevant and up to date with the industry.
There will be opportunities to meet with and hear from members of the GOG as well as the Technical Groups through either plenary sessions or workshops.

IGHC is where IATA both prompts and listens to the industry. For instance, at the IGHC in Kuala Lumpur in 2014, the idea of standardised machine-readable aircraft alignment markings was mooted and surveyed amongst participants, together with the concept of engineering out the risk in GSE. This has resulted in new requirements for GSE in the AHM and prototype autonomous GSE that are already docking safely at the aircraft.
Other examples include the introduction of the IATA Ground Operations Manual, the move to an XML format for load control and the encouragement and interest received for the Weight & Balance Information Centre.
Not to be forgotten, of course, is the perennial favourite of the IGHC – the IATA Standard Ground Handling Agreement (SGHA).
The SGHA is in fact what launched the IGHC all those years ago with the need to create a forum at which airlines and ground service providers could meet on equal terms to discuss the nuts and bolts of contracting out ground handling.
This document has become the de facto industry ground handling agreement and it is at the IGHC where IATA and the members of the AGSA Technical Group receive much useful input and feedback on the SGHA. This year we will also tackle the changes in the SGHA 2018, enabling delegates to understand new provisions such as airline insolvency, cargo damage liability and many others.
In addition to plenary sessions, workshops, exhibition and networking opportunities, attendees of IGHC can also look forward to a welcome cocktail and gala networking reception.
Plus, this year’s event will include the second IGHC Innovator competition, which recognises the best new ideas in ground handling and is expected to be tightly contested.
All of these elements, as well as continuous support over the years from dedicated industry sponsors, hosts, airlines, ground service providers and manufacturers, combine to make IGHC not only the longest-running, but also the most wide-ranging and successful ground handling event – with the unique ability to produce and sustain real change and benefits in the industry.
We’re not all talk: we also do and deliver.

For more information about IGHC Innovator visit