Q. What does the IATA Airport Services department do for its members
A. We are responsible for all ground, passenger, and baggage handling standards and procedures as published by IATA in the Airport Handling Manual and the Passenger Services Conference Manual. Ground Handling is one of the key elements of Airport Services. We serve both IATA airlines and the IATA Ground Handling Council (IGHC) with around 440 members. IGHC is comprised of IATA and non-IATA airlines, ground handling service providers and IATA Partnership Programme registered suppliers. We're working at the moment on some of the projects around the A380 because that is going to need functional specifications for some new ground support equipment. Airport infrastructure is one thing with this new aircraft, but handling the aircraft is going to be quite interesting and challenging. We get involved with manufacturers of ground support equipment and we invite them to join the IATA Partnership Programme, which allows them access to IATA industry meetings. We are involved in the new technologies coming on as far as simplifying passenger travel. At the moment, we are looking at the proposed changes to EU Directive with respect to handling. The deadline for comment is 1 June, and we are trying to make sure our members' interests are being considered. We are available for questions about airside safety, interpretations of airline handling agreements and do a lot of consultancy work. We have a certified system of Quality management - AHM 804 looking at service level agreements between the handler and the carrier, which is a performance measurement system that we implement for handling companies or airline handling departments.
Q. What are some of the trends or changes you've seen?
A. Two areas: Ramp Access and Automation. After Lockerbie, the government of the UK introduced a lot of additional security around ramp access. More recent events have seen this trend accelerating around the world. But, the biggest change is the amount of automation since the 1970s. Advances in certain areas, for example, the check-in processes and load control processes have been automated and have improved accuracy and efficiency. On the handling side, what I find is quite interesting is the number of bulk loaded airplanes that are still about. With baggage handling, the bigger aircraft are containerized so you only have to handle the bags once at departure to put them into the container, and once at arrival to take them out of the container. With bulk loaded aircraft, up to the 757, every bag has to be loaded individually into the aircraft. So the bag is handled a lot more - you handle it at the terminal, you handle it twice at the plane, and so on. So, there is a huge amount of manual handling that goes on and the aircraft bellies really haven't changed. The new generation aircraft we have these days - everything on them is absolutely new technology - except where the poor loading guys have to work. That hasn't changed, in fact, all it's done is gotten worse because the bellies have gotten longer. It remains very much a manual job.
Q. What are some of the challenges you encounter in your day-to-day?
A. A major challenge is trying to make sure we get the idea of best practices out to everyone. Efficiency, not speed, is the key to minimising the time the aircraft is on the ground. Safety is always the first priority. We have an Airside Safety Group that meets twice a year - reporting to the Ground Handling Council - and developing the safety items published in the Airport Handling Manual. We get quite a lot of information coming in through members of the group. We try to encourage people to share their experiences - both good and bad. When we receive such reports, we are happy to be able to facilitate the sharing of the information with the rest of the industry - on an anonymous basis, of course.
Another huge challenge is costs. We are all too aware that our industry is in desperate times, external factors continue to affect revenues. We have to facilitate exploration of any new ideas to reduce costs for our members. The airport services team is involved in projects and working groups to increase efficiency and reduce costs. I am very much involved in the common use, self-service standard that will shortly be published by IATA. This will allow airlines to provide self-service check-in facilities through shared kiosks.