The industry, as is widely known, is in a state of contraction — large mergers the past few years have strained some third-party suppliers, spurring uncertain outlooks for business. The current market requires companies to examine their business models, and puts pressure on them to remain agile in an environment with unpredictable lulls and high demands.
One ground handling company, GAT Airline Ground Support, has managed to grow about 10 percent over recent years. It has implemented a strategy of watchful growth to remain responsive to the changing market.
GAT began in 1968 and performs a range of services, including ramp handling, GSE maintenance, cargo management, and passenger assistance services.
The company has since grown to 29 locations throughout the United States. The company’s biggest customers have been Delta and JetBlue, among others.
In recent years, GAT, like many service suppliers, felt the effects of an industry in flux during challenging economic times. The airlines suffered large revenue losses, and some combined. One such defining event was the Delta/Northwest merger. “We lost quite a bit of business through Delta Air Lines in-sourcing supply-chain product,” says Cory Howell, director of contracts and sales at GAT. “Three years ago when it went through, through no fault of our own, we lost a large amount of business — because of supply chains, negotiations, and putting everything back on the table for bid. On a couple occasions, we got the business right back.”
The company took a hard look at its model and how it responds to the changing marketplace. “We’ve seen our fair share of successes over the last year or two,” he says. “The recession has hit us all; we certainly felt our fair share for 2007 and 2009. We had to take a brand new look at the way we do business.”
And business, despite the challenging times, has continually grown over the past couple years. The company still retains Delta as a large customer and has recently picked up new contracts with the carrier. In August 2010, the company picked up contracts to provide cabin cleaning services for some Delta flights in New Orleans. In 2011, it was also granted a contract extension with Delta in Atlanta for lavatory service. It also received new business with the carrier in the form of ramp handling, skycap services and passenger assistance services in Providence, Rhode Island.
The company also grew its business with UPS, picking up contracts for ground handling and parcel sort services in Greenville, South Carolina and Greensboro, North Carolina. “We’ve developed quite a relationship with UPS,” Howell says. “Four years ago, we had one contract. In our current day, we have three contracts with them.”
The company also picked up new business with JetBlue in November at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. “We are currently in negotiations for a couple more locations,” he says. “We continue to prosper with JetBlue. We started with them in San Diego as the first operation, and now we are up to nine.”
In January, the company was awarded ground handling and cabin cleaning services for AirTran Airways in Jacksonville, Florida. In March, Vision Airlines granted the company services for passenger and ramp handling at its location in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The company also picked up contracts with Continental for services in Burlington, Vermont and Portland, Maine.
And as of June 1, the company will provide ramp handling services in Atlanta for US Airways.
With the new business, the company will be at about 1200 employees, according to Richard Thiel, president of GAT.
The contracts have represented station openings at several locations, including New Orleans, Portland, Maine and Washington, D.C. The contract with Delta in Providence also marked the opening of a new location for the company, which became official May 17.
eTug LLC announced that GAT Airline Ground Support have purchased "eTugs" for several California operations.
Cover Story Special Report: Ground Services in North America Mergers and Apparitions By Richard Rowe July 2001 North America represents the largest ground services market in the world...