The 31st IATA Ground Handling Conference, held from 22-25 April at the Sheraton Grand Doha Resort & Convention Hotel in the Qatari capital, is aiming to cover a wide range of subjects.
The event kicked off in style with a reception on the terrace of one of the hotel’s restaurants. Guests caught up with each other over drinks and a plentiful supply of delicious food to a backdrop of smooth jazz, as the sun went down and the neon lights of Doha Bay took over.
Monday morning, and it was time to get down to business: or rather, business development, to quote the theme of this first day of the conference.
In his opening address His Excellency Mr Akbar Al Baker emphasised not only Qatar Airways’ impressive growth but also the role of aviation in forging connections rather than divisions. Given the delicate political situation surrounding Qatar, he hoped IGHC would be “a symbol of unity”.
Next on the agenda was an industry economic outlook from Nick Careen, which laid out a confident vision of the future based on continuing passenger and freight growth, especially in emerging markets. Last year saw 4.1 billion travellers take to the skies – and IATA predicts this figure will double by 2036.
With oil prices expected to ease and stabilise, as well as structural changes in the industry such as densification of aircraft taking place, profitability should remain relatively strong. “We’re not out of the woods yet, but it is sustainable,” Careen said, pointing out that government support is key to ensuring the success of the industry.
Opportunities to develop
A press conference with IGHC co-hosts Qatar Airways and Qatar Aviation Services revealed ambitious plans for the future as QAS is looking to set up at other locations beyond its home country, in order to provide the same high quality of service that it offers in Doha elsewhere in the carrier’s network.
There are certainly opportunities for ground handling to develop and improve. A panel discussion highlighted the ongoing need for global harmonisation of standards throughout the industry – still proving to be a slow process, although increasing digitalisation is likely to drive standardisation since it requires stakeholders to connect and share information on common platforms.
The potential for an entirely autonomous ramp also came up. This would certainly involve challenges, not the least of which is reducing risk of damage, injury or even loss of life (viz. the recent fatality caused by an Uber self-driving car during testing), but the benefits could be huge. If such risks could be engineered out of the equipment, then there could come a day when humans would not be involved in ramp operations at all, the panel considered.
The afternoon sessions covered numerous topics: updates to the Standard Ground Handling Agreement (SGHA), e-SGHA, e-invoicing, GSE pooling, efficient load control and IATA’s Weight & Balance Information Centre, and a workshop on security service level agreement implementation.
Also on this first day of the conference, the three finalists in the IGHC Innovator awards presented their entries. Delegates can vote for Assaia International’s machine-learning extension of ramp CCTV, International Boarding Solutions’ automated solution for checking the weight and size of carry-on luggage, or SATS’s smart watch for ramp operations, and the winner will be revealed on Wednesday 25 April.
Finally, participants gathered for a ‘drop and win’ cocktail reception before heading out to explore more of what Doha has to offer.