Antony Marke, managing director of ABM Aviation, explains how the aviation services provider that undertakes ground handling at most big UK airports, including London Heathrow, London Gatwick, London Stansted, Liverpool John Lennon Manchester and Glasgow, as well as being active at most major US airports and elsewhere around the world, has adapted to Covid-19 conditions and the downturn in the aviation sector
What were the primary measures that ABM introduced into its various handling operations as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic?
In response to the pandemic, our business introduced the ABM EnhancedClean™ programme for our clients. It safeguards the public with a beyond-normal approach to cleaning and disinfecting in public spaces.
We use the three-step EnhancedClean programme on aircraft and in Glasgow Airport using our electrostatic fogging machines that are designed to kill germs within two minutes. As part of the programme, we also carry out frequent disinfection, using hospital grade disinfectants on high-volume touch points such as aircraft tray tables and door handles.
From the very start of the pandemic, ABM also immediately took significant steps to proactively mitigate risks to team members.
We thoroughly assessed risk for each service that we provide, looked at the operational environments and then worked with our business partners and clients to implement controls.
We immediately introduced Perspex screens and tensor barriers between team members to create a safer working environment, limited area capacities to ensure 2m social distancing, required team members to wear face coverings and disposable gloves, and installed hand sanitising stations and one-way systems throughout our workspaces.
Utilising IT solutions reduced the need for face-to-face contact, and we introduced a management tool that allowed line managers to keep up to date and monitor the health and wellbeing of each team member remotely.
We also assessed all our buildings and invested in air-cleaners with UV [ultraviolet] light and HEPA [high-efficiency particulate air] filters where necessary.
How has the pandemic (and consequent industry downturn) affected your ground handling operations?
We were committed to ensuring the pandemic had as little impact on our team members as possible and looked at ways we could safeguard jobs. During the pandemic, we have provided opportunities for team members to work in partnership with Cignpost to carry out Covid-19 PCR [polymerase chain reaction] testing for the public and airport staff, as part of the UK government’s testing and monitoring programme. [Cignpost Diagnostics is a UK Government-accredited private Covid-19 screening service provider.]
As airline flight schedules were reduced, this also meant that a significant amount of ground handling equipment was taken out of action and stored. Any equipment that remained in service was, and continues to be, part of our rigorous cleaning regime.
As flights and operations recover, we are conducting checks to ensure compliance, with each piece of equipment thoroughly cleaned and disinfected using our disinfection fogging system (which is part of our EnhancedClean programme), with a focus on high-volume contact areas.
What sorts of personal protective equipment (PPE) have your handlers used in the course of their day-to-day work, and have handling processes had to be adapted to ensure safety as a result of the introduction of mandated social distancing measures?
We provided our ground handling team members with the appropriate PPE in line with the tasks that they complete.
We also worked with our team members to identify PPE requirements dependent on individual needs, taking into consideration any medical aspects: for example, powder-free, non-latex gloves and face coverings that clip directly onto glasses.
We also introduced work bubbles, as well as staggered shifts and break times, while setting limits on the number of people permitted in certain areas to ensure social distancing. These measures meant we were able to protect our people, while still providing and maintaining services.
Do you have plans, and perhaps a possible schedule, on when and how ABM Aviation will be able to remove these precautionary measures? How will you undertake this process?
As flights continue to increase, we are aligning our resource needs to that demand. We are very close to having all our team members back in the business after creating almost 1,000 new jobs in the last eight weeks [the period prior to the beginning of August].
In terms of precautionary measures, these, including our Covid vaccine register and the tracking of isolation/infections, will be in place for some time yet. These will only change to remain aligned with government and client regulations and will always be based on the science available.
Do you feel that ABM has played its part in keeping the global aviation industry functioning, and allowing it to do so as safely as possible?
Absolutely. We have provided our services throughout the pandemic to help protect our industry. We supported flights that were converted from passenger to cargo, and we maintained front-of-house roles to meet the needs of the airlines and airport customers.
As an organisation, we have stood up to the challenges and we will continue to do so with safety at the front of our minds. Our focus is on building stronger foundations for the future and as such, we have invested in new safety systems, and especially front-end and customer-facing technology that will enhance safety.
Amid the pandemic and its unwanted impact, has your move away from the OmniServ brand that was well known in the UK now been completed?
OmniServ became a part of US-based ABM Industries several years ago. We were excited to officially transition to the ABM brand last year. To our clients and passengers, it meant familiar faces dedicated to service excellence with a new look in uniforms, signage and more.