But there have been some notable successes for alliances in group purchasing of services: oneworld has been very active at airports such as Amsterdam Schiphol and Frankfurt, with Aviapartner and Acciona, respectively, securing handsome group contracts.
Meanwhile, Star Alliance reports successful joint tendering at airports such as Amsterdam, Budapest, Birmingham (UK), Dublin, and Nice. "Joint tendering has been successful in terms of savings, improved quality of services and productivity of carriers," says Lufthansa.
But what kind of handler does joint tendering favour? The preference, it seems, is for network buying from a reduced number of suppliers. However, the idea touted by some ground handlers of a one-stop-shop - the concept of buying all services from one supplier over a large network - is not universally attractive.
"At Finnair, we prefer long-term relationships with a ground handling agent, but our policy always has been and probably always will be that we will not put all our eggs in one basket," explains Rahko. "It is important to have the option to compare quality and price. Also, handlers are stronger in some markets than others, so it's best to pick the best from the crop at each location."
That is not to say that carriers look for single suppliers at every station; Finnair, for example, is handled by GlobeGround/Servisair at all its Scandinavian stations. That said, with price such a factor, network handlers that offer persuasive incentive programmes for bulk purchasers can be difficult to resist.
While the price and quality balance is important, many purchasing managers are at pains to point out that they do not always go for the cheapest option. Reliability counts, and great emphasis is placed on past supplier performance, existing relationships, ground handling training programmes, and service quality follow-ups.
These are all factors that will be put in the melting pot as alliances continue to concentrate on adding value and cutting costs for their members in all parts of their business; after all, in today's climate, the reasons why airlines joined their respective alliances in the first place remain more robust than ever.
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