Increasing ground handling operational challenges lead Ryanair to set to two ground handling arms, director of operations Adrian Dunne tells Justin Burns
Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair is now self-handling at 25 airports in Spain it services is it looks in a bid to improve the efficiency of its ground operations.
The new handling arm Azul Handling started check-in, baggage and ground handling operations on 4 April for Ryanair and its sister airlines – Ryanair Sun, a Polish charter carrier and Lauda.
The move in Spain follows a similar one at London Stansted Airport where the airline started self-handling on 1 February for flights that reach 220 a day in summer after setting up Blue Handling, in partnership with OmniServ.
Adrian Dunne, Director of Operations, Ryanair, says it decided to start dedicated ground handling at both in response to challenges that have been affecting operations.
“Over the last 12-24 months we have noticed a number of our handling partners particularly in big operations are beginning to struggle with handling schedules and most importantly, handling the schedule when we face huge air traffic control disruptions across Europe, as schedules were very different on a daily basis and the whole thing (operation) would fall apart,” he says.
Dunne says Ryanair looked at Stansted where Swissport was the handling agent and it noticed problems. He says staff shifts did not line up with their schedule which was moving around due to delays and ATC strikes and it then saw the same issue in Spain where it had a local handling partner. “We then decided to do a different product and go for a dedicated handling operation,” Dunne says.
Possible further roll-out
Dunne says the self-handle model could be rolled out in future and the airline may look to set-up its own ground handling arms in other key markets.
“The key thing for this year (summer) is to get this settled down and be able to do make sure it beds down and works and that we can achieve what we set out to in our business plan,” he says. “Then, moving forward is there an opportunity? Absolutely. We already self-handle in Portugal in partnership with a company called GroundLink, but there are huge other markets in Italy and Germany. We have quietly done a little bit in Poland this year and taken Krakow and Katowice and in June we take in Warsaw Modlin Airport in a similar model.”
Dunne believes the face of the handling industry is “changing”. “easyJet is doing something similar with DHL in Gatwick, and Bristol in the last few weeks and also Manchester as well, so there are quite a lot of changes in handling.”
“By doing it this way we have taken the handling agent’s typical margin out of the business and reinvested that back into the business.”
More control and efficiency
The biggest factors for taking over its own ground handling is it gives Ryanair, which in 2018 carried more passengers in Europe than any other airline – 139 million – more control and efficiency in its operations.
Dunne says at Stansted where handling was done by Swissport, staff use to finish at
7pm in the evening if everything was running normally, but with huge ATC delays in Germany, and the UK, the wave of departures that should have of happened between 6-7pm was happening between 7-8pm and not all staff wanted to remain on duty for various reasons which impacted operations.
“By doing it this way we have taken the handling agent’s typical margin out of the business and reinvested that back into the business, rather than taking it as a saving and have created a lot more resilience in the operation,” he says.
“Handling agents will typically plan a number of staff required per hour throughout the day but we have been able to take a single view across the day and say this is how many staff we need to handle the operation with resilience built in, working around time for breaks etc.
“It allows us to build up a huge amount of resilience back into the operation. It also helps at places like Stansted and Palma in particular, huge airports and huge operations. The airports are also very pleased to see us putting this investment back into the operations.”
Training and equipment
Another area ground handler’s typically struggle with operationally is having the right number of staff, who are properly trained, which is made even harder when handling for multiple airlines.
Dunne says Ryanair has had an advantage as training is it is mainly for one operation, Boeing 737s, which it operates a fleet of, which has helped staff and operational efficiency.
Due to the might of Ryanair financially, it has been able to make significant investment in ground support equipment, €60 million for Azul Handling alone, often something that ground handlers’ are unable to do due to limited resources.
“Handling agents would typically struggle to achieve the level of investment,” Dunne says. “In the last six months we have spent €77 million on ground equipment just to go into this business, so huge investment put in, in Stansted, again a huge operation. A handling agent may had 40 sets of steps, but we have just gone and put a set in on every stand in the airport so we can never run out.”
He says the investment is all about long-term benefits for Ryanair in being able to improve operational efficiency, drive better on-time performance and keep passengers’ happier.
There has been a number of challenges for Ryanair in setting up two handling operations in such a short period of time.
Dunne says one of Ryanair’s ground equipment suppliers TLD GSE, told him that most airlines would take three years to do what it had in six month along employing big project teams, and undergoing a phased introduction, unlike Ryanair.
But he says the move is already paying dividends in Stansted and is sure it will have the same success in Spain. “We took in both cases in Spain and Stansted a workforce that had lost their level of enthusiasm and engagement and we have reinvigorated them and given them the resources and training and the tools to do their job,” Dunne says. “We found punctuality in the first month in Stansted improved by 20 per cent on the previous year so you can see the immediate repayment.”
He concludes: “Has it been a challenge? It has been crazy. Even simple things like buying ground equipment have been. We possibly bought up most of the capacity for the manufacturing of ground equipment in Europe so even getting manufacturing deliveries on time has been a challenge, but we have got there,” Dunne says. “If it doesn’t work, I will be looking for a new job in three months’ time.”