EU’s Ground Handling Reforms At An Impasse

Opponents focus on competition, but the proposals also set minimum performance standards and grant airports more authority over operations.

There’s more, however, to the ground handling proposals than a choice of service providers.

Here’s a summary of the other reforms:

  • Establish a new role for airport management as “ground coordinator.” This would give airports more control over all ground handling services and, most importantly, allow management to establish minimum standards of performance for all ground handlers at the airport.
  • Clarify the legal framework for training and transferring staff. This could mean compulsory training requirements and forcing a ground handler who previously held a contract to transfer its trained staff to the ground handler that wins the new contract.
  • Recognize mutual national approvals. “Mutual recognition” across borders is one driving force behind the European Union. In other words, an approval issued by one member state would entitle the ground handler to provide service in a different member state.
  • Introduce greater transparency. This would enable airlines and their handlers to better understand how fees are charged for such centralized systems as baggage.

The changes sought by the reforms affect only major European airports with annual passenger traffic of more than 5 million passengers. The choice of service providers at smaller airports will continue to be limited.

While labor looks to protect jobs and the airline industry looks to manage costs, other political factors play against the proposals.

Germany, the EU’s biggest economy, has traditionally been against the presence of too much competition in ground handling services at its airports.

The German government has taken full advantage of the right to limit competition to just two companies. Not surprisingly, then, Germany, along with Austria and Poland, do not support the reforms.

Although the November vote was against the ground handling reforms, TRAN did approve the other reforms with some modifications.

Kallas tweeted that he would consider all options, “including possible withdrawal of the proposal” after the November vote.

As required under the EU’s legislative process, the proposals were passed by the European Council, which represents the views of EU member state governments, and now will come before the European Parliament, which represents the views of the EU’s citizens.


Eugene Gerden is an international free-lance writer, covering the global aviation and ground support industry. He writes for numerous industry publications and can be reached at

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