Airports Show Their Colors

Cover Story Airports Show Their Colors While some airports in Europe prefer simply to oversee their ground service providers, others adopt a dual role as airport operator and ground service provider. Richard Rowe looks at how three major European...

In 1999, the Airport Users Committee (AUC) was formed at Heathrow to help implement the Directive. Two years later, the AUC formed a 15-strong sub group made up of airlines and ground handlers (chaired by BAA Heathrow), designed to tackle ground handling issues. The AUC and its sub-group remain instrumental in Heathrow's efforts on the ground.

"We embarked upon a joint strategy to promote best practice and improve ramp discipline," explains Ben De Rosa, Ground Handling Manager, London Heathrow. "We have now reached a point where we all talk to each other."

The strategy focuses on four main areas of cooperation: Measurement, Education, Enforcement, and Actual initiatives.

Airports 1Taking each in turn, extensive modelling is central to the measurement process. "If a handler wants to add operations at a terminal or enter the market we look at traffic flows to see whether they can be accommodated," De Rosa told GSE Today.

Investments have been made in a GSE planning tool to help fathom out detailed parking plans and storage needs, while Heathrow also employs a strategic stand planning tool designed to keep ground handlers and their customer airlines as close together as possible. Additional modelling exercises are being introduced inside the different baggage halls (to focus on output rather than just throughout), as is an upgrade of the airport's vehicle database.

Heathrow's education efforts are largely used as a safety tool. In addition to the usual poster campaigns in break rooms, new employees see best practice training videos when they pick up their ID badges. Airport teams also visit the worst five companies who fail roadside checks and the worst five for accidents. They are walked through measures to prevent problems arising in the first place. De Rosa reports a significant reduction in accident and incident numbers.

Education cannot work without a degree of enforcement, although Heathrow doesn't like to use the word 'policing'. The emphasis is on working together rather than just finger wagging, a task that is helped considerably by having handler groups in place for each terminal, and genuine handler input.

The airport conducts initiatives such as 'Operation Clean Sweep,' which sees airside teams working with handlers to identify vehicles that are badly parked, or in bad shape. Similarly, Heathrow is strict on adherence to licence conditions, and companies that deviate are quickly visited.

Ground handlers need not always run to the airport when they have problems. As De Rosa explains, Heathrow employs a parking self help system whereby all handlers have contact numbers for their counterparts and all GSE has the contact number of its operating company on the side. If one company's GSE is parked in someone else's area, handlers can resolve the issue themselves.

Audits are also undertaken on a quarterly basis looking at handler performance and everything from first and last bag delivery to emissions on motorized GSE. Separate to the audits, handlers are rewarded for their efforts and Heathrow supervises 'Operator of the Year' and 'Most Improved Operator' awards, as well as a system of on the spot awards for individual employees.

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De Rosa acknowledges that the airport itself has plenty to do to make the ramp a more efficient place of work. This includes specific initiatives, such as improvements to the Terminal 3 arrivals baggage hall, as well as wider measures such as the installation of video cameras to determine geographical 'hot spots', and improving ground markings and signs.

Looking ahead, Heathrow is about to launch what it terms a 'Turnround Plan'. This comes in response to a recent UK Health and Safety Executive document that calls for a central and single responsible figure for each turn, be it an airline station manager or a handling representative.

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