It is a well-known fact that ground operations is a ‘hub’ function, interconnecting and impacting almost every aspect of the aviation industry. This has often been overlooked, but savvy airlines have come to realise that there is a vast and often untapped competitive advantage to be had in improving their ground handling operations. Through improving speed, efficiency and accuracy in ground handling operations, airlines can reduce direct operating costs, improve safety and limit damage on the ground, as well as streamline and improve all aspects of aircraft turn-around. This is where IATA Ground Operations comes in, says Joseph Suidan, Head of Ground Operations at IATA.
IATA’s role in ground operations is to represent the interests of both its members, who constitute the largest multi-national grouping of airlines, as well as the Ground Service Provider community. By taking the 30,000ft perspective facilitated by this wide range of participants we are able to focus our attention on the areas that are important to both groups. Supporting us in this endeavour are the members of our various working groups including the recently formed Ground Operations Group (GOG).
Ground Operations Group
The GOC was formed to improve the governance structure of ground operations within IATA and place more importance on effective standard setting and safety. It comprises 15 members and five observers from executive level decision makers in the ground operations industry. The group’s role is to assist IATA in developing a longer term strategy for ground operations and to act as a conduit for new ideas and trends that will impact the industry in the future. By implication the group will also contribute to developing the required standards, initiatives and programmes to support this vision. In addition they will have responsibility for approving the changes in the Airport Handling Manual and the IATA Ground Operations Manual publications – ensuring a robust and critical assessment of the industry’s key standards and procedures content before it is released for publication.
The first face-to-face meeting of the GOG members took place at IATA’s Montreal headquarters on 22-23 March 2017. Four broad areas were prioritised by the group for ground handling:
- Standardisation: driving consistency and simplification in ground handling globally
- Implementation: promoting worldwide adoption of measures to standardise, simplify and streamline ground handling
- Innovation: encouraging, promoting, investigating and keeping an open mind about all technological advances, but especially in terms of: aircraft, airports and GSE
- Data: tapping into and effectively developing and utilising the wealth of data generated by airlines, ground service providers, airports and others to benefit the industry, analyse and identify key issues and trends as well as help promote and support key initiatives.
Between now and the next GOG meeting in autumn 2017, members will be finalising their task plans and cooperating with the industry’s working groups to ensure they focus on key priorities.
A constantly evolving industry
Constant developments in aviation and information technology drive a rapid pace of change to which ground handling operations must adapt. IATA’s role is to tap the pulse of the ground handling industry and ensure that the necessary tools and standards are developed and in place to support the evolution of the industry and ensure that critical ground handling operations issues are addressed.
Load function control
Load control is a critical part of any flight. Easing the workload, standardising the constant or semi-permanent parameters, as well as enhancing the accuracy and reducing the risk of errors in Load Control are to be encouraged. The recent release of the prototype Load Control XML Toolkit is our first step in this direction. This pilot work is planned to expand and start incorporating the AHM 565 material of EDP Semi-Permanent Data Exchange – further easing the work and improving the accuracy of the Load Control functions.
Ground damage and environmental solutions
Aircraft damage caused during ground handling is estimated to cost airlines nearly $4 billion annually. And the total cost to the global aviation industry is thought to be more than double that. This is too high to ignore.
IATA has recently addressed part of the ground damage problem by introducing the Ground Support Equipment (GSE) standards that require the fitting of proximity sensing and warning systems to GSE. In addition to this initiative is the development of aircraft fuselage markings that will make it easier for suitably equipped passenger boarding bridges and other mobile GSE to approach, dock and retract from aircraft safely and efficiently. Combined with the much finer level of control necessitated by the above mentioned systems, the increasing demands of emissions standards is driving GSE towards a considerable increase in electrically-powered equipment (or e-GSE).
While there is overall interest in using such equipment, there seems to be mixed opinions and varied levels of acceptance when getting into the details. How the equipment interfaces with the airport infrastructure and logistics – particularly regarding power supply, connections, location of chargers, numbers of suitably qualified maintenance staff and other considerations vital to the success of e-GSE – are all aspects that are under discussion. IATA continues to work with industry partners on the development of standards and products to further improve the technological aspects of preventing ground damage and the transition to more environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient GSE.
Management and safety are vital in any industry. The Airport Handling Manual has undergone a number of changes to reflect the evolving safety developments in the industry. The Safety Management System (SMS) section has been restructured to better align with ICAO, IOSA and ISAGO regulations and guidelines and now includes some practical examples to provide guidance to users. ‘Human Factors’ is another section that has been updated and the Quality Management System has been amended and moved into the SMS section – consolidating all this material into one place. Guidelines to address fatigue management in ground operations, a current topic of interest and concern in the industry, is being drafted for publication in the 2018 38th edition.
2018 version of the Ground Handling Agreement
One of the cornerstones of IATA’s ground handling support for industry is the commonly used Standard Ground Handling Agreement (SGHA). The SGHA is a dynamic document that reflects the evolution of the ground handling business over time. It is continually revised but formally issued once every five years with 2018 being the year for the next release.
The user guide for the SGHA has also been updated in concert with the coming new version of the SGHA, all of which should ease and help the airlines and ground handlers with their contracts. The SGHA retains its flexibility to enable both parties to apply their legal policies and conditions, as well as be able to exclude or add material to which both parties agree.
IATA Ground Operations Manual (IGOM)
The IGOM was developed in response to industry demands for enhanced ground operational safety and damage reduction. IGOM is the core manual for all ground operations and provides standard procedures for frontline personnel.
The ground handling industry has recognised the need for – and benefits derived from – common standards. Today more than 60 IATA member airlines have already adopted IGOM with a target of 75 slated by the end of 2017. Of equal importance, there are over 80 ground service providers who are also registered as IGOM compliant – testament to the interest and support for this long-term initiative.
Involved with all aspects of the industry
The consistent theme of IATA’s work in Ground Handling Operations is collaboration with all stakeholders, from regulators to ground service providers. IATA Ground Operations is part of the ICAO Ground Operations Task Force; making sure that the airlines’ voice and opinion is heard in the regulatory environment.
IATA also works closely with ground service providers whose participation and support underlines the success of any work undertaken in the industry. IATA has recently overhauled its ground service provider membership programme by tailoring it specifically for ground service providers but also incorporating the non-IATA airlines, airports and regulators. The new Ground Handling Partner programme gives IATA –an airline association – the means of incorporating input and opinion from the other vital stakeholders in the ground handling industry.
Keeping the industry informed
Keeping ground operations stakeholders properly informed and abreast of what IATA and the industry are doing is an ongoing task. One of the ways this is achieved is through the IATA Ground Handling Conference (IGHC). The annual conference brings together over 800 delegates from across the industry.
The 2017 IGHC, taking place in Bangkok on 24-26 May 2017, will feature three days of discussions, plenary sessions, workshops exhibitions and networking opportunities. The main focus of the 2017 conference is on enhancing business, engagement, development and operations. The event also tackles new technology and culminates in the announcement of winner of the new IGHC INNOVATOR AWARD.
Joseph Suidan is Head of Ground Operations at IATA. He joined IATA in July 2008 as Assistant Director, ISAGO, following seven years as Airport Manager Canada for Austrian Airlines. Prior to that, he served as Regional Manager Sales and services and Head of Toronto and Montreal Stations for Royal Jordanian Airlines for 17 Years. During these years of service, Joseph worked very closely with the commercial and industry affairs departments of various Airlines, Regulators and Airport Authorities of Canada, Austria and Jordan. Joseph has served extensively on various conferences and committees during his years with the airline industry. He was also a Member of the AOC (Airline Operating Committee) for a period of 10 years.