London Luton Airport (LLA) has forged ahead on a programme of GSE pooling that highlights the benefits of the policy for airport, handlers, carriers and passengers, and which it believes is a model for the aviation industry
Liam Bolger, head of airside operations at LLA, is a big supporter of the changes underway as regards pooling of GSE on the apron at the airport. He traces the genesis of the move to a pooled environment back to late 2014, when one of Luton’s big airline customers took the decision to switch its business from one of the airport’s ground handlers to the other (the two ground handlers at the gateway are Menzies and Swissport). This seemingly innocuous change led directly to a major increase in the GSE operating on the ramp – up from about 300 assets to nearer 600, Bolger explains.
The result, of course, was congestion on the apron, with the GSE of one handler tending to block access on a stand to the equipment of the other, as well as inefficiencies in terms of the large number of items of the same GSE equipment types being kept on the same stand. Moreover: “Aesthetically, it also looked awful,” Bolger remembers.
“So, we made the decision to standardise equipment and reduce congestion,” he continues. At first, no-one one was quite sure how the handlers could share equipment, Bolger recalls, and a particular issue was how to determine the cause of – and liability for – damage sustained to any GSE. While CCTV could help in some instances, the answer here was telematics, supported by pre-use equipment inspection by any handler of ramp GSE. Trials started in 2015, with TCR testing the pooling of some GSE types on five stands.
Quick to perceive the potential benefits, the decision was taken by LLA to go ahead with pooling and TCR was chosen as a result of a competitive tender to manage the pool. As of early summer this year, GSE was being pooled on a total of 22 stands (and 80% of Luton’s aircraft traffic passes through these stands); the expectation was that, within a couple of months, 36 of Luton’s 41 stands would be handled by means of pooled GSE (the other five stands have particular characteristics of use that don’t favour shared use of GSE).
Any handlers new to Luton would of course have to sign up to the pool, but one of the oft-quoted arguments against GSE pooling – that it lowers the access threshold for potential new handlers entering the market – is not a big issue, Bolger considers. How many handlers are really trying to break into this market? he asks. “This isn’t a competition issue; it’s about efficiency and standardisation.”
Airlines have become much more efficient in recent years, Bolger notes, as have airports and most other parties involved in aviation. But ground handling has changed little, he argues. Pooling is a significant move towards greater “professionalisation” of the handling business, Bolger suggests, because it allows handlers to concentrate on their core task of ground handling and not have to worry about GSE: in terms of numbers, availability, quality, and so on. And with 25-minute turnarounds of aircraft a common feature of operational requirements at Luton, the handlers need all the help they can get.
The benefits are clear to see at Luton, Bolger pointing to a 40% reduction in GSE assets on the apron having been achieved already as a result of the changes. And another 30% reduction may well be possible as a result of a further extension of the programme: currently, pooled equipment takes in only certain key GSE types such as ground power units (GPUs), stairs, baggage belts, and chocks and cones. Phase 2 of the programme could see that range expanded to take in equipment such as towbars, baggage dollies and even pushback tugs.
As well as the decrease in congestion, with its consequential benefits in terms of efficiencies and ramp aesthetics, there has also been a “massive reduction” – perhaps as much as 90% – in damage sustained to GSE. The telematics employed on the GSE ensures that the handlers look after the equipment, while the lower levels of congestion and much-reduced need to tow equipment around the airport have allowed for this marked improvement.
“The handlers’ job is just so much easier as a result of the pooling,” Bolger observes. While Menzies and Swissport have got on board with the programme at Luton, other airport authorities have also been keen to visit LLA and see the benefits for themselves, he adds. Neither has pooling added to LLA’s own workload. The airport authority’s contract with TCR ensures that the latter is committed to providing all the necessary GSE for the gateway’s two handlers to turn around aircraft on schedule, and that the equipment is of the standard necessary to achieve this. Meanwhile, TCR manages the pool through its contracts with Menzies and Swissport; LLA merely ensures that things all go smoothly and that benefits are realised as planned.
Proud of what the airport has achieved in terms of its GSE pooling, Bolger concludes: “This is getting a lot of interest and will hopefully be of real value to the industry as a whole.”