Rethinking Life On The Ramp

Feature Rethinking Life On The Ramp By Richard Rowe February 2002 For many passengers, system improvements inside the airport terminal have fundamentally changed the whole airport experience from manic to manageable. But, the polished...


Many of the positive developments of recent years have stemmed from better operator and maintenance staff involvement, a path that more organizations would do well to tread, offers Canadian GSE Consultant, John Mitchell.

"Now it's time for broad based forward thinking teams consisting of all those involved," he argues. "This includes the operators, maintainers, engineers, manufacturers and, of course, the bean counters to discuss and conceive ideas that are 'outside of the box' for the betterment of this industry."

VIEW FROM THE FRONT
One big question is whether operators are listening to those really in-the-know — the ramp agents that battle bad weather and facility constraints on a daily basis.

"My impression," says one US airline executive, "is that most contractors treat their low wage, frontline employees like transients. Are they listening to them and utilizing their input?"

Nossent agrees that the men and women of the ramp are as well placed as any to make improvements happen.
"From our experience, people actually performing the task on the ramp appear to be the best source identifying potential improvements," he says. "Channels of communications and means of evaluation of creative ideas should be implemented."

He believes that formal cooperation agreements involving all stakeholders from the ground handling process makes good sense. Where multiple handlers all work on a single aircraft, each needs to understand the others' functions.

"They are all interlocking pieces of a jigsaw and the efficient ground handling picture requires all the pieces," says Nossent.

The fact that it is such a jigsaw puzzle has seen ground handling generate a multitude of systems to integrate the various pieces on an information level. But, there still remains a lack of overall coordination and it remains rare for an airport to have a central coordination center that surveys all operational processes around an aircraft during ground time.

IT-SUPPORTED VS. MANUAL OPERATIONS
Awareness of the necessity of IT-supported operations seems to be growing, but manual operations remain the norm, especially in terms of staff and equipment allocation on the day. This is fine by Yves Lemoigne, former Ground Operations Manager at Airbus. He argues that the basis of all ramp handling is people who service an aircraft as quickly and safely as possible, but who recognize that sometimes the servicing doesn't fit into a specific time plan.

"This means that a good working organization with trained and motivated people sounds like a better direction to me than beautiful processes disconnected from the field operations," says Lemoigne, who moved to a new position at French aeronautics company, Clemessy, at the turn of the year.

THE NEXT BIG THING
The service entry in 2006 of the next big thing in aviation, the new Airbus A-380, is a good opportunity for the industry to look even more carefully at current practices.

"Manpower, and the new equipment that will be required, will have to remain manageable and in harmony with the airport infrastructures," says John Mitchell.

Clearly, with aircraft only making money when they are in the air, the projected turnaround times for the A-380 will involve a push to make it as short as possible. During his time at Airbus, Lemoigne personified the manufacturer's efforts to talk to industry and ensure that the needs of the A-380 paralleled those of other aircraft (see GSE Today, March 2001).

"At Airbus, we tackled the turnaround time issue since the beginning of the A-380 project," he says. "A lot of technical questions are continuously reviewed to give the A-380 a turnaround time capability equal or better than the biggest existing commercial airplane."

Lemoigne adds that GSE for the A-380 will not necessarily be specific and will be able to serve other aircraft, including towing tractors, catering vehicles, and cargo loaders. "This is a big plus for the A-380 operators," he says.

According to Antoine Maguin at TLD, "This [aircraft] shows clearly that too rigid an airport would have created bad sentiment against this aircraft. Airbus spent a lot of energy trying to fit in the actual processes to the airports, and most are non-automated."

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