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‘Well Handled’ – An interview with Dr. Michael Kerkloh, CEO, Munich Airport

Posted: 7 June 2007 | Dr. Michael Kerkloh, CEO, Munich Airport | No comments yet

We spoke with Dr. Michael Kerkloh, CEO, Munich Airport about the ground handling operation at Munich International Airport.

We spoke with Dr. Michael Kerkloh, CEO, Munich Airport about the ground handling operation at Munich International Airport.Dr. Kerkloh, what do you consider to be the biggest changes in ground handling at Munich International Airport since you became CEO in 2002?

Well of course we face increased competition through the emergence of a second ground handler, Aviapartner, who have already picked up a substantial market share. We have reorganised our ground handling department and our changes are now starting to take effect. We are an airport company dealing with various carriers, which means that sharply falling prices put our ground handling team in a difficult position because we have to cope with the competition.

What’s more, in 2003 we teamed up with our main customer, Lufthansa, to open a new terminal with a hub infrastructure, including an extensive baggage system and state-of-the-art integrated handling processes. This was a major structural change for the airport that has practically resulted in a split of operations between the two terminals.

Munich Airport is renowned as Europe’s most advanced hub airport. With a capacity for some 50 million passengers per year, how exactly does Munich still achieve a 30-minute minimum connecting time?

Well the 30-minute MCT is within Terminal 2 and also within the Star Alliance network. Between the two terminals we have an MCT of 45 minutes. Within Terminal 1, which can have a throughput of 25 million passengers, the MCT is 35 minutes, which is still a very competitive achievement. To maintain these levels, state of the art technology has to be in place. For example, our baggage conveyor system is 40 kilometres long and connects a ramp-based baggage hall with all of the main gates at the terminal. It is also connected to the central area where our customers check in. The baggage conveyor system is a prerequisite, but of course we also have state-of-the-art processes that we developed with the airlines to ensure smooth and efficient loading and unloading of aircraft. This allows the baggage of connecting passengers to reach their aircraft efficiently.

We are a very punctual airport so we find that we have fewer irregularities than many other airports. For flights with short connecting times we have a special feature called ‘Ramp Direct Service’ – we welcome passengers from late arriving flights at the aircraft and transport them to the gate of their connecting flight. Their baggage gets the same treatment. This requires a complex, networked IT system and it is crucial for the airport and the airlines to exchange data. I say airlines because Star Alliance not only means Lufthansa, but all of the Star Alliance members. They provide up to date information about routings and so on. It isn’t a technological miracle but it is an adequate system.

The other thing we look at are key performance indicators and one of the most important is the “left behind index.” When the amount of baggage left behind exceeds a certain percentage you have to take a long hard look at your performance. This is extremely important.

As the first European airport fully certified for A380 operation (ICAO CODE F), how will Munich adapt its ground operations to handle this NGLA?

Our ground operations will not change very much. The A380, in my opinion, is not a revolution, but more of an evolution. Of course it is a very large aircraft, but we will not be handling many in the early going. I think it is something that our staff will get used to very, very quickly. For us it’s just normal procedure.

Do you feel that the other global A380-compatible airports, airlines, associations and suppliers will benefit and learn from Munich’s experience?

Munich Airport was the first airport with A380 certification so that our runways and taxiway systems, aprons and gates were ready to welcome this aircraft. As far as I know, and I was involved in the final route-proving program of the A380, there are already some airports in the world that are ready and prepared for it. From what I have seen, the A380 is quite easy to handle.

Munich Airport has a wide variety of modern ground handling vehicles and equipment, including 74 passenger buses, 25 pushback trucks, over 350 pieces of loading equipment, 237 tow trucks and more than 2200 dollies and baggage trailers. Does Munich have plans to purchase additional equipment in the near future?

We are a fast growing airport. In the first four months of this year we have experienced above average growth, more than 10 percent in fact. We will certainly need more equipment, but we also want to use it efficiently. We are on the verge of installing a GPS based system known as TOFU, which will help us to make more efficient use of our air-ground support equipment. The basic idea is to save money and manpower by using a GPS-based navigation and communication system to optimise the dispatching of ground handling vehicles. In the pilot phase we installed the new system in our ground power units and the efficiency gains enable us to reduce the number of units in use. Now we want to install the new technology in more than 600 vehicles in our ground handling operation. We are cooperating with a company called Proveo, which supplies the software and hardware (black box). If it all works out, we will save up to 1.8 million euros a year with this innovative technology. Our own staff will do the installation work.

Munich faces an average of 30 days of snowfall per annum. What does it take to remain open through the winter months?

We are used to snow and we have a very professional airport operations team. They monitor the condition of the runways, taxiways and aprons and with the help of an early warning system and weather forecasts they try to stay ahead of the conditions and give themselves time to react. We have 350 employees working shifts, mainly from the local area, who guarantee smooth and safe operations at Munich Airport. We also have over 130 special purpose vehicles such as snow ploughs and road salt vehicles to clear the runways and aprons. Sometimes we do close one runway for a short time, depending on the snowfall, so the operation can’t run as smoothly as we are used to. This is one of the major reasons for our commitment to a third runway. We want to have full operational capability even during the most adverse weather conditions. If we have three runways, we can close one and operate with a fully functional two-runway system. The time between alerting the crew and operational readiness for starting the equipment is 60 minutes. It then takes just 25 minutes to clear one complete runway system.

With expansion plans on the horizon, how will ground handling operations evolve to maintain the high quality standard and service flexibility that has made Munich renowned for its experience, training, know-how and quality?

The growth is more gradual in nature. We are lucky as we have two separated aprons and in this case it helps that we have another provider of ground handling services. The growth is then distributed to the whole ground handling community and they cope with it. On the other hand, the design of Munich Airport is so practical and simple that it reduces the complexity as far as ground handling is concerned. For example we have areas designated for commuter aircraft, with a special subsidiary of our company providing them with services. I think we are coping well with the differentiation as well as the growth. I don’t see any major problems.

Your ground handling services can only be maintained to a high level if equipment purchased is reliable and cost-effective. What does Munich International look for when purchasing new ground handling equipment?

Price (laughs), but of course we carry out technical tests and feasibility studies which highlight our experience with operating equipment and our future requirements. We also obtain information from the bidder to fully define the lifetime costs and prices, for example spare parts. We have our own workshop, with a well trained team of specialists, who advise us on where to expand, which suppliers to use and what kind of equipment we will need in the future. As we are a high usage airport, our equipment is under stress. We need higher reliability, which is the key to smooth ground operations.

Do you consider the current equipment used at Munich to be the best available in the marketplace today, and capable of living up to Munich’s requirements?

I think we have the equipment we need for our operations. We do not always need high-end solutions. When you look at the diverse market in which we are offering our services, not everybody needs high end. There is also a differentiation there as far as our equipment is concerned. Generally speaking, a large airport such as ours, with heavy traffic segments, needs multipurpose high reliability equipment.

Dr Michael Kerkloh

Dr Michael Kerkloh was appointed CEO of Munich Airport in 2002. He has a Doctoral degree in Economics from the University of Frankfurt and started his career in the aviation industry in 1987, as Deputy Department Director at Frankfurt Airport. In 1995 he was appointed Managing Director at Hamburg Airport, where he remained until taking over responsibility at Munich. He is also Chairman of the supervisory board for the T2 management holding company, Terminal 2 Betriebsgesellschaft.

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