The Covid-19 crisis hit GSE operators hard as flight frequencies collapsed and airport operations shrank back. As a result, handlers have placed large parts of their GSE fleets into long-term storage; but even this process has its own challenges, and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has offered what advice it can on this as part of its wider effort to support the ailing airline and wider aviation industry
Early on in the pandemic IATA began working with industry stakeholders and colleagues to create a set of guidelines advising on ground handling procedures during these difficult times. Called the Quick Reference for Ground Handling during Covid-19, it has already been updated to reflect changing conditions and feedback (the second iteration went live in early April).
The guidelines are designed to complement – not replace – the first point of reference for those interested in learning more about correct storage procedures of GSE – namely, the original equipment manufacturers’ (OEM) guidelines. Most GSE OEM manuals have a section describing storage procedures that should be followed, while regional or local regulations might also apply.
Joseph Suidan, head of ground operations at IATA, says that the association’s guidelines are generic, as they are designed to be applicable to all aspects of the ground handling business. They cover passenger and gate handling, baggage and cargo handling, ULD (unit load device) handling, aircraft cleaning, catering and ramp handling.
The guidelines also cover GSE storage, specifically providing a quick reference guide to how to take GSE out of operational use (OOU), how to manage it while it is OOU and then how to optimise its return to service.
Parking GSE for a long time without taking certain basic steps can lead to potential problems and costs when the equipment is needed again. Indeed, IATA notes that careful preparations need to be made in order to ensure that any mothballed GSE is kept in a safe and functional condition, so that it can be returned to operation easily and quickly, with the least possible cost. Its recommendations can be found on the IATA website.
The feedback on the IATA guidelines in regard to ground handling during the Covid-19 crisis has been “overwhelmingly positive”, says Suidan, showing that IATA is “on the right track” by providing assistance on ground handling at this hugely challenging time.
To offer further thoughts and advice on the specific topic of mothballing GSE, in mid-April IATA held a couple of webinars on the subject of ‘GSE Storage and Return to Service’ that were hosted by Suidan.
Moderated by Steven Savage, senior analyst, ground operations at IATA, on the webinar panel was Thomas Hüger, head of research and development at German GSE manufacturer MULAG; Mark Vaughan, head of jet fuel management at South African Airways (SAA); Michiel Heikens, GSE contract manager at Dutch flag-carrier KLM; and Barta Korgul, head of GSE planning at Dubai-based handler dnata.
The panel looked first at how what preparations should be made for placing GSE into long-term storage and then how the equipment can be brought back into service quickly and safety. While there is no clear definition of ‘long-term’ in this context (the period may be defined as little as a month or much longer), similar plans and procedures should be adopted for GSE not likely to be used for a period of some weeks, it seems.
Developing a coherent plan for the term of storage is key, while rotating equipment into operation for short periods could also help to overcome the more serious potential problems of mothballing. Preventative maintenance and inspection (PMI) schedules have to be adapted, while plans also have to be made as to when and how the equipment might be brought back into service at short notice.
Hüger at MULAG offered the perspective of a GSE manufacturer on how best the issue of long-term GSE storage should be approached, while Korgul from dnata offered his advice on the strategies that have been adopted by one the world’s biggest handlers. Indeed, dnata has updated its own manuals on the subject of GSE storage in light of the current crisis.
Vaughan pointed out that not only can OEM manuals offer plenty of assistance on the subject but that regulations and guidelines from such bodies as the Joint Inspection Group (JIG) also have plenty of useful advice on the subject.
The webinar panellists took questions from the online audience, offering their expertise on such issues as: ‘Should vehicles’ brakes be left on when in long-term storage?’ (no, this might cause the brakes to become ‘sticky’, and the equipment should instead be chocked); ‘should maintenance schedules be changed for stored GSE?’ (yes); ‘what measures can be taken to minimise the dangers of corrosion or liquid leakages, and should fuel be left in vehicles’ tanks?’ (Vaughan offered his specific expertise on these matters); and ‘should vehicles’ batteries by kept in place, either charged or uncharged in the case of electric vehicles?’ (the answer depends on the vehicle and on the availability of charging points at least to some extent).
It was clear that, when it comes to returning GSE to service, there are some important steps to take. IATA advises that the return of GSE to service should match the expected return of traffic and operations; the necessary airside vehicle passes (AVPs) will, of course, need to be arranged.
Plus, precautions have to be taken to ensure that jump-starts and/or towing vehicles are available if needed, while the relevant PMI schedule has to be reinstated. Brakes have to be checked particularly carefully, and any operator should undertake a thorough walk-round of any equipment that he/she is about to operate.
IATA confirmed that it will continue to update its advice regarding ground operations during the crisis, and may offer specific training programmes for those that want it to supplement its written guidelines and these webinars.