Managing a global GSE fleet

posted on 18th March 2019

Swissport’s VP global fleet management, David Burgess, has a lot on his hands. But he’s always looking to the future…

How much GSE does Swissport currently operate, and what types of equipment does that include? 

The Swissport global fleet comprises approximately 55,000 assets, with a broad split of 17,000 motorised assets and 38,000 non-motorised assets. We have every type of GSE in our fleet, including 3,900 baggage and cargo tractors, 1,580 units from the GPU/ACU/AHU/ASU asset category group, 1,150 passenger steps, 1,050 cargo loaders and a little over 1,000 pushbacks (both conventional and towbarless). Additionally, we have almost 3,000 cars, vans, pick-ups and other support vehicles.

Across how many stations is that GSE in use?

We operate GSE at 245 stations worldwide.

Is most of that equipment owned or leased?

We own around 77% of our fleet, with the remainder obtained either on short or long-term lease. The terms of the lease are dependent on many factors and are looked at on a case-by-case basis. For example, to support short-notice start-ups or seasonality we routinely use short-term leases. Longer term leases at some of our stations are well established and generally tied to historic reasoning: it has become the norm. That said, we are now proactively looking at these stations from a cost/benefit perspective to ensure that they continue to offer value both in the short and longer term.

What are the biggest challenges of operating and managing such a huge fleet?

The biggest challenge [in that respect] is to provide the strategies, policies, standards and tools that enable stations globally to work in a consistent and standardised way.

Our stations are at different levels of maturity in terms of their ability to manage and maintain GSE effectively and cost consciously, and there are also the cultural and language challenges to overcome too. Nevertheless, significant progress has been made over the past couple of years to meet these challenges by establishing a strong regional fleet leadership team and instilling through them an ethos of continuous improvement, [a process] which is underpinned by the fleet policies and standards defined in the Swissport Global Fleet Manual.

Another challenge is the lack of consistency in regulations [in different markets around the world].

Maintaining all that equipment is a major responsibility; how do you go about ensuring as high a level of reliability as is possible across the global fleet?

Maintaining GSE to a consistently good standard is another significant challenge for Swissport, as alluded to above. At some stations, the standard of maintenance is very high and it’s these high standards that we are striving to replicate across the group.

Over the last year or two we have placed considerable emphasis on improving the standard of planned maintenance (PM), because I firmly believe that this is key to improving the general condition of GSE and reducing breakdowns, leading to improved reliability and thus increased availability.

The inspection element of PM is critical to achieving higher standards and is complementary to the traditional servicing tasks associated with PM.  We have recently introduced a standardised approach to the scheduling of minor and major PM interventions and are building standardised job plans for uploading to our globally deployed Enterprise Asset Management application – Maximo.

Training of workshop technicians is also a crucial line of development that we are addressing, in co-operation with some of our major GSE suppliers. Improved training leads to more competent technicians who are able to diagnose defects and carry out repairs far quicker than technicians that are untrained on GSE. Clearly, quicker repair turnaround times reduce the time that equipment is out of operation undergoing maintenance, and this also contributes to higher equipment availability.

What plans does Swissport have to expand or upgrade its current GSE fleet?

The Swissport regions have comprehensive five-year strategic plans that include fleet replacement. In broad terms, we are targeting older equipment first, with the aim of reducing the average age of our GSE and – crucially– the cost of maintenance, repair and fuel.

This planned, systematic approach to fleet replacement helps us with our fleet harmonisation strategy to reduce the number of GSE manufacturers [whose equipment we operate] at any single station. For example, we look at a station’s equipment holdings and target older one-offs that are difficult to support due to obsolescence, for replacement.

Additionally, we will be buying most of our GSE for the next three years from the same manufacturers that we’ve used for the past two years. We remain flexible and open to new manufacturers but value the partnership arrangements that we are building with key manufacturers, as this helps us develop a consistent, standardised fleet at our stations.

We are already seeing the benefits of this as stations receive new GSE and transfer old GSE, so that they have just two or three manufacturers for each GSE category, rather than four or five; this is great for operators and maintainers alike.

How has your acquisition strategy changed over time? Have any new factors of recent years (greater environmental concerns, for example) played a major role here, and what do you expect to be the biggest changes in the operating environment that will affect Swissport GSE strategy in coming years?

Our acquisition strategy is inextricably linked to our fleet replacement strategy, as explained above: in essence, fewer manufacturers but a deeper partnership built upon trust and co-operation.

It’s worth mentioning that as part of our acquisition strategy we have developed the Swissport Fleet Catalogue, in which we define the build specification for each GSE category. This comprises a standard build specification and defined options.

We previously had tremendous variability in build standards, which made the ordering process cumbersome and inefficient. Working with our business partners in Swissport’s Global Procurement department, the build standards defined in the Fleet Catalogue are embedded in our Purchase Requisition (PR) tool. This permits stations to select from an ‘approved manufacturers and models’ list, which in turn auto-populates the PR with the standard build specification and costs; add a few options to suit local requirements and the PR is very quickly completed for submission and approval.

Some of the factors that we considered when developing the Fleet Catalogue were aircraft avoidance systems and the latest engine build standards needed for legislative compliance. We have defined both as part of the standard build specification, but noting that given the size of our fleet it will take many years to have all relevant GSE fitted with aircraft avoidance systems.

Additionally, we have defined as a strategy the intent to procure electrically powered GSE, or eGSE, whenever we are able to do so. We are constrained at some airports by the lack of charging facilities, but with an upsurge in ordering eGSE over the past two years we now have some 2,300 eGSE assets in our fleet

Maximo performance

The fleet management tool that Swissport has chosen to adopt across all of its worldwide network is IBM’s Maximo product. This Enterprise Asset Management tool has been rolled out globally, across some 150 or so stations worldwide, Burgess confirms. It also acts as a maintenance tool and an inventory/spare parts tool, he says.

Its global application is a big plus, allowing each station to use the same system, where previously there were numerous such tools used at various stations. Thus, Maximo not only helps individual station managers with their operations and planning, it also assists senior Swissport corporate managers to monitor results against key performance indicators (KPIs). It’s invaluable for allowing Swissport to see “what we’ve got, where we’ve got it and how it’s doing”, Burgess notes.


Prioritising safety

Another key aspect of ongoing Swissport strategy as it pertains to its GSE is safety, Burgess informs. By way of example, he points to the fact that the handler has now introduced proximity detection systems as a ‘build standard’ on three of the equipment types that it operates: belt loaders, loaders and passenger stairs (the three types of GSE that most commonly come into contact with aircraft).

For the future, Swissport is also looking into other technology that may further improve the handler’s safety record, such as automated docking systems, which could form part of the build standard of its GSE.