Africa’s GSE market

posted on 26th June 2018

As a former business development manager at UK-based boarding ramp manufacturer Aviramp, John Grundy learned much about the GSE business. In this article, he takes a close look at ground handling in South Africa, and observes that not all is as it should be

As most of the aviation world looks with cautious optimism to a brighter future following many years of economic stringency, there remain some parts of the globe where continued financial pressure is having a direct impact on GSE equipment, in terms of both procurement strategies and ongoing maintenance standards.

This article will look at ground handling in South Africa, rather than the continent as a whole. Much of Africa is still lagging behind the developed world in terms of available finance, and service quality is often not able to match European or US levels; however, in South Africa the expectations are somewhat higher. So, just what are some of the key issues surrounding the GSE market in this rapidly changing country?

Due to a lack of available funds, many companies have been forced to cut budgets back severely. In some cases, this means that old equipment has been sourced which may well be in poor condition and, perhaps, no longer in production. Consequently, after-sales service will generally be poor, with training and operation manuals practically non-existent.

Equally, the availability of spares will be limited at best. New GSE is expensive and the poor exchange rate of the South African rand against the US dollar, pound and euro adds significantly to the cost. Plus, a poor international credit rating often means up-front payment is mandatory for the purchase of new equipment, all of which makes a difficult situation even worse.

Some companies that supply GSE into South Africa are only concerned about making a sale and are not interested in offering an after-sales service. By and large, these companies will have a sales agent based there whose primary objective will be to increase sales volumes. In many cases, what these agents don’t have is technical expertise or a stock holding of the spare parts most likely to be needed. It is then considered too expensive if something does go wrong to pay for an engineer to travel, usually from Europe or the US, and thus potentially dangerous GSE equipment may be retained in regular use.

Further considerations

To ease financial pressures, many ground handling companies in the region will turn to employing temporary labour in an operational capacity, rather than employ staff on a full-time basis. From an accounting perspective, this makes sense, as it keeps the company’s overheads down.

Unfortunately, the mindset of a ‘temp’ is often one of resentment of the full-time staff, a feeling of not belonging and therefore a general lack of motivation. There have a been a number of instances of temporary staff involved in GSE accidents simply disappearing and failing to report the incident, leaving the company concerned to foot the bill for damages and any claims that may arise.

Since the creation of its first democratic government in 1994, trade union activity in South Africa has increased dramatically. Whilst in many ways this is a good thing, a downside has been an increase in industrial action in the aviation sector that has had a negative effect on productivity.

Finally, due to the sanctions imposed on the country prior to 1994, many GSE parts have historically been sourced through black market channels, a strategy that inevitably leads to ‘pirate’ parts being supplied, causing a higher level of inadequacy in the equipment.

The way forward?

There are certainly ways in which the GSE situation in South Africa can be improved, and a positive change can undoubtedly be achieved despite the country’s financial restrictions. More consideration should be given to after-sales and training, for example. Not only will this enhance the reputation of the supplier, but will also serve to add to the confidence and technical expertise of the operator, which will in turn heighten self-esteem and performance.

Whilst the bottom line is important, companies should remember that not everyone has the same level of funds available for GSE and whilst no one would ever expect a supplier to operate at a loss, there must be some creativity found in devising terms and conditions to suit both vendor and buyer. What is vital, though, is that the GSE equipment must be the right piece of equipment for that customer at the right cost.