Portugal’s biggest handler had to make cuts at the five Portuguese stations at which it handles, but it has continued to sign up new carrier customers and points to this as evidence of its focus on safety, quality and meeting client airlines’ demands
In January this year, ground handling services provider Groundforce Portugal – a subsidiary of national flag-carrier TAP Air Portugal – confirmed that it had been recognised once again by the Associação Portuguesa de Certificação (APCER, in English the Portuguese Association for Certification) as consistent with the standards of ISO 9001:2015 quality management.
Groundforce Portugal is ISO 9001 quality management certified at its Lisbon, Porto, Faro and Madeira stations. The certification confirms best market practices in relation to high-quality management and that the recipient of the certification offers high standards in terms of safety as well as quality of service.
A Groundforce statement noted: “The renewal of this certification, almost two years after the beginning of a pandemic that disproportionately affected the aviation sector, is a source of immense pride and a demonstration that, despite the many uncertainties that surround us, everyone in Groundforce Portugal always puts the most important thing above everything else: providing a high-quality service and in total safety to their customers.”
APCER stated: “Despite the atypical circumstances experienced and the profound changes that the company and the sector are going through, the organisation maintains its Integrated Management System operative and effective.”
The APCER audit highlighted such strengths of Groundforce Portugal as the resilience of the business given the highly adverse operating conditions created by the Covid-19 pandemic; the value of its search for other, less traditional business lines, while maintaining the quality of service provided to customers; the experience of Groundforce Portugal’s technical team; its implementation of biosecurity measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19; and the evaluation of customer satisfaction, with a score of 88%, an excellent result in spite of the current situation and in line with previous years.
The recertification of the quality management standard is just one result of the efforts that Groundforce Portugal has made over the last couple of years to maintain the highest possible degree of quality service, says the business’ operations general director Arafat Tayob.
The intensive APCER audit lasted for four full days, between 13 and 16 December 2021. The continuing use of high-quality management systems and procedures in accordance with the standards of ISO9001:2015 represents, says Tayob, “an additional guarantee to our clients that, despite the changes and disruptions brought by the pandemic, we continue to operate at the highest levels of quality and safety”.
Groundforce Portugal had to adapt its operations to the needs of the pandemic, as all ground service providers were required to do. Says Tayob: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, Groundforce has strictly followed – and continues to follow – the recommendations made by the Portuguese Government and the Portuguese Health Authority (DGS).
“These measures have been demonstrated to be effective, given the reduced number of infections occurring in the workplace. Many protective measures are still in place, and are constantly being updated, following all DGS recommendations.”
The handler did have to draw down its operations because of the downturn in flight operations caused by the pandemic. In fact, says Tayob, “We had to scale back our operation in all airports, given the dramatic decrease in flights. Things are now consistently returning to normal, even if we are still significantly below 2019 levels, with the exception of our cargo handling business, where in the last months of 2021 we were able to surpass 2019 figures.”
Indeed, later in January, Groundforce Portugal announced that it had handled a total of 14,148 tons of cargo in December 2021, an increase of 46% over the same month of 2020. According to a statement: “This new maximum demonstrates the resilience and increasing importance of our customers’ air cargo business and proves Groundforce Portugal’s ability to accompany them in this growth.”
Growing customer base
Portugal’s biggest handler grew its airline client base last year. In October 2021 it confirmed that it had recently signed ground handling contracts with six new airline customers, while also renewing the contract with 10 existing client carriers. The six new customers were Lot Polish Airlines of Poland, JetPak of Belgium, TAROM of Romania, Airseven of Denmark, Swiss International Air Lines of Switzerland and Ukrainian flag-carrier Ukraine International Airlines.
Tayob believes that this illustrates the flexibility and adaptability that Groundforce Portugal has to meet different customer needs.
The business has, it believes, a 70% market share of the handling market in Portugal, and benefits from about 75 years of experience. Employing approximately 2,700 staff, Groundforce Portugal currently operates at five airports: Lisbon, Porto, Faro, Funchal on Madeira and Porto Santo. These gateways are all either on the Portuguese mainland or Portuguese islands.
It currently handles for a total of 68 airlines, including TAP Air Portugal, Azores Airlines, IAG Group carriers, Air France/KLM, Emirates Airline, Lufthansa, Swiss, Delta, United, Royal Air Maroc, Aeroflot, Azul Brazilian Airlines and Beijing Capital Airlines, thus – says Tayob – covering the main markets of Europe, Africa, Asia and North and South America. In November 2021, Groundforce Portugal handled 12, 428 flights, approximately 26% below pre-pandemic 2019 levels.