Living in Interesting Times

The famous Chinese curse — may you live in interesting times — may in fact be nothing more than a 20th Century English invention, but South African ground handling companies understand the sentiment.

Some 18 months ago, ground handling in South Africa underwent a fundamental change. On March 1, 2008, in a scene reminiscent of the most complex airport handovers, two new ground support companies began operations at South African airports.
Menzies and BIDAir had their work cut out that first day. The always dynamic nature of operations and an understandable, if not appreciated, reticence on behalf of the previous contract holder, led to a number of challenges — some foreseen, some not.
Bongani Maseko, director of operations at airport operator ACSA (Airports Company South Africa) was impressed with the response, however, describing it as “very refreshing.”
He continued: “The best equipment alone is not enough to see our business through such a change-over. It is people and management practices that make the real difference on the ground. Passengers will be increasingly able to enjoy the benefits of these new partnerships.”
So far, the prediction has proven accurate and the companies’ mandate fulfilled. Passengers are being processed efficiently, improved logistics have cut flight delays and safety and security have been enhanced.

Menzies’ success can be seen in an ever-increasing list of awards. Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways gave it the Most Improved Station Worldwide 2008 (for Johannesburg), Kenya Airways honored it with the Most Customer Compliments award while Cathay Pacific gave it the Most Improved Station (Johannesburg) both by relative and absolute score — the first time these awards have been given to the same airport.
Little wonder that Forsyth Black, Menzies senior vice president in South Africa says the company is “delighted and proud” of the quality of its operations since it started last March. It has recently added domestic start-up Airtime Airlines to its list of clients, opened a new lounge at Johannesburg and turned over 10,000 consecutive South African Express aircraft at Port Elizabeth, East London and George without a single delay. “That’s a whole year at 100 percent on-time performance,” beams Black.
Of course, all has not been plain sailing. Black notes that as the new boys on the block, Menzies initially struggled to get allocated the correct amount of space. “But we’re happy with what we’ve got now and as construction on the new terminals and refurbishments have progressed at OR Tambo (Johannesburg, JNB), Cape Town (CPT) and East London in particular, we’ve been able to trade up to better facilities,” he says. “The rental costs involved, however, are some of the highest we’ve experienced in the world.”
Aside from tackling costs, Menzies has also had to confront a problem that blights many South African airports — stolen luggage. “One of the most important issues ACSA wanted addressed by the new handlers was that of baggage pilferage, for which OR Tambo was notorious,” says Black. “We tackled this head-on and although it’s a constant battle, we are making headway and have had some impressive results so far.” In fact, TAP Portugal has given Menzies South Africa Best Baggage Performance Worldwide.
“We’ve spent a year changing the way people think and approach their work,” says Black. “From a Menzies point of view, we think that’s a huge positive and we’ve seen the results show through in our operations and continued efficiencies.”

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