An interest in ground ops
“There has been a lot of change in the last few years regarding airports providing ground services for carriers, but there is still a lot to do,” says Edward Jacob, regional director of operations for American Eagle Airlines.
Jacob, who worked for more than 20 years with Aer Lingus providing services for other airlines, says airports have taken an active approach to this concept, and are coming together to find cost-effective solutions to ground handling challenges.
American Eagle ground handling has expanded its role, servicing other airlines, even in cities that are not on the carrier’s route map. According to Jacob, customers include Allegiant, Continental, Continental Express, Delta Connection, Horizon, Jet Blue, Midwest Airlines, and others. It’s also providing ground handling services in Canada and the Caribbean.
“We want to go after more and more ground handling, and to do it for other carriers as well,” says Jacob.
Because some of the carriers really don’t want to be seen being handled by American Airlines, explains Jacob, at airports American Eagle serves, “We have taken the carrier logo off of our uniforms and replaced it with Eagle Ground Handling identification.”
With more than 4,000 employees serving 1,500 departures for several airlines, American Eagle is now providing ground handling service at more than 100 locations, and is the largest regional airline in the ground handling business, says Jacob.
“We will provide ground handling at any location and at any sized airport; American Eagle does not have to fly there. We will handle it in partnership with the airport, for the airport, or for the airline,” he says.
“In addition to providing ground handling services, we are also providing ground handling training programs. We provide safety and consulting services for ground support, and can provide ground security coordinator training, or any of the regulatory or non-regulatory training related to ground support operations.
“We are looking at a great big sandbox out there, and we just want to know who wants to play.”
Jacob says the company will tailor to individual airport requirements, building on the strengths of each operator, airline, and airport. The company is also willing to get into any service which is needed by the airport or airline in relation to ground support. One thing he finds that isn’t particularly done well, says Jacob, is jet bridge maintenance, which Eagle Ground Handling can do.
American Eagle personnel are also currently servicing ticket counters, and assisting at boarding gates. According to Jacob, the company can do the ground handling and other services for less cost than the carriers can do it themselves.
Gary Cyr, director of aviation at Springfield-Branson National Airport, says the airport saw 80-100 charters flying into the airport in the late ‘90s each year, and the airlines who were doing ground handling for those charters decided to get out of the handling business. The airport began providing handling services in 2002.
“We could then handle those aircraft ourselves, or let that charter business go,” says Cyr. “We chose the former. As a result of that, we put together a program, starting from the ground up, to handle aircraft.
“Ground handling is a cost center for us at the airport,” says Cyr, “And we track those costs. We try to maintain our mark-up at about an18-20 percent window of profit.
“My cost per enplaned passenger is $4.97; we believe the ground handling has been an incentive to bring in air service, and we look to take on more ground handling.”
John DeCoster, senior VP of Trillion Aviation, worked for Northwest Airlines before getting into the consulting business. Also a former airport director, DeCoster says ground handling can be done successfully with a variety of different models; there is no one size fits all.
When determining how many turns per day an airport can handle, or makes sense, DeCoster says it really depends on the airline and the kind of contractual relationship that exists.
“There is certainly a lot of turmoil in the industry right now,” says DeCoster. “There is kind of a hodge-podge of things out there right now when it comes to ground handling: Regional Handling Services was formed in the merger between Delta and Northwest; United has appoximately15 contractors; and US Airways has nearly the same thing.
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