credit: AeroGround Flughafen München GmbH
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has highlighted three key priorities for the ground handling industry to support the growing demand for air travel: harmonising global standards to improve safety, improving collaboration between stakeholders, and developing talent. IATA’s head of ground operations, Joseph Suidan, tells us more
Speaking at the 31st IATA Ground Handling Conference in Doha, Qatar, in April this year, Nick Careen, IATA’s vice president, airport, passenger, cargo and security, broached the subject of ensuring safe and efficient ramp operations, telling his audience: “Effective ground operations are an essential part of the airline industry’s efforts to meet the forecast growth in demand for air connectivity.
“In preparing for the future we need to focus on consistently implementing global standards, enhanced collaboration, and accelerating modernised processes,” he added.
Talking to Airside, Suidan expands on these themes, first explaining in a little more detail the biggest challenges that IATA sees as facing the ground handling industry today. First and foremost for ground handling agents (GHAs), staff retention is a critical issue, he insists. Low wages make it difficult for GHA employees to build a career in the industry and, with that, comes a problem of high staff turnover for GHAs.
Harmonising global standards in terms of ramp operations is another major challenge, he continues, pointing to ever-greater variations in standards across the globe. This is perhaps partly due to another issue that needs to be faced: the varying degrees of investment being made in apron infrastructure, facilities and ground support equipment.
There is certainly a healthy amount of funds being invested by airport operators and their partners into such areas as retail opportunities at their air gateways, but not always the sort of investment that IATA – and the airlines which it represents – would like to see in infrastructure and equipment that supports safe and efficient ramp operations.
Related to the above is the increasing congestion seen at many of the world’s busy airports. Expanding levels of passenger traffic and cargo volumes are putting pressure on airport capacity, and on ramp operations, while the bigger aircraft that now fly into these gateways (such as the A380 super jumbo) have also added to the challenges facing the hub airports through which they operate.
Another area for due consideration when looking to the needs of the ‘ramp of the future’, IATA argues, is ensuring that all relevant data is collected, collated and used in the best way possible to optimise operational efficiency. Airport Collaborative Decision Making, or ACDM, will lie at the heart of the ramp of the future, Suidan suggests, bringing together all relevant data to optimise the use of resources and maximise operational efficiency.
Finally, the pace of airport privatisation has picked up in many regions, another factor that could have an impact on ramp safety and efficiency if not handled carefully, IATA believes.
All these issues could have an impact on ramp safety, the most important consideration for all concerned, says Suidan. But they also have an impact on the efficiency of all that occurs airside – and inefficiencies lead to delays and other problems that have a direct impact on airline operations and their bottom line.
IATA can help in many of these areas, he says, particularly in the training that it can offer its airline members and their partners. For example, chapter 11 of its Airport Handling Manual (AHM) deals specifically with Ground Operations Training and such matters as global harmonisation of standards and processes.
IATA is modernising its training to reflect the greater technological sophistication now available, in order to get its messages across clearly and effectively. For example, it sees virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) as key enablers for ramp training and is reflecting that in the training that it offers. The ever-increasing degrees of automation of ramp processes is also being reflected in IATA’s training programmes.
Improving the collaboration between stakeholders is another major focus for IATA’s evolving training programmes. Working towards greater levels of ACDM as well as greater global harmonisation, IATA is keen to work with handlers, airport operators and all relevant stakeholders on the apron, in addition to its airline members. All these stakeholders are also encouraged to share their knowledge and experiences with each other.