At the end of July, AAAE announced the establishment of the Aviation Ground Service Association (AGSA), a new organization approved by the AAAE Board of Directors presumably in response to the "growing need, expressed both by airports and airlines, for greater efficiencies and enhanced networking regarding airline ground handling activities (both above and below wing) at airports around the country." AAAE goes on to say that "many small- and medium-size airports realize that, in order to maintain air service, reducing ground handling costs and improving operational efficiencies are important to minimizing air carrier operating costs."
Though it's true that we are all trying to minimize costs in some way, shape or form, NATA is expressing concern that the Small Community Air Service Development Grants are being used by airports to compete with existing businesses. Concurrently, NATA's Airline Services Council (ASC), whose member company services include aircraft fueling, terminal and ground handling services, held a meeting on July 31st at which the key agenda item was "Leaving Aeronautical Services to Aeronautical Businesses." Guest speaker Spencer Dickerson, C.M., Senior Executive Vice President, American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) addressed the topic of the new affiliated organization, AGSA, and the fact that the degree to which airports will manage ground handling services is yet to be determined.
According to Stan Mackiewicz, NATA representative for government and industry affairs, ASC is working with AAAE and planning on participating in their meetings to understand what the scope is and where AGSA is headed. There was a comment made at the ASC meeting which I believe puts the context of the ASC member's concerns in a nutshell: "When I have to compete with my landlord, I lose. When I have to compete with my landlord and my landlord is subsidized by local, state or federal funds, I lose big time."
AAAE states that the initial focus of AGSA is to support airports (again, small and medium sized) as they explore avenues to provide "more efficient and cost-effective ground handling service for airlines through establishing operational and training standards for airports or any others that are engaged in airline ground handling services."
I think I am seeing the nose of the camel here … maybe its entire head, underneath someone's tent for several reasons. First, with the Small Community Air Service Development Grants, airports have an unfair financial advantage. Second, though the airport authority may keep costs lower initially, they have the ability to increase costs at their discretion. Third, and perhaps this will not occur in the near future, but if revenue is one of the major factors, could we not see this "opportunity" moving to the major airports?" Finally, does it make sense for airports to be developing ground handling operational and training standards, especially when most, if not all of the ground handling companies have extremely effective, safe, stream-lined (albeit not standard) training methods in place already?
I would agree with the ASC's key agenda item at its recent meeting: "leave the aeronautical services to aeronautical businesses."
As always, thanks for reading!