The priorities of aircraft ground handling companies have changed since the pandemic and training for ground operations has reflected this change. Additionally, current infrastructural constraints are also impacting aircraft ground handling.
According to UAS International Trip Support, to achieve improved performance and safety in global ground handling, there is a need to think in terms of innovation, technology implementation and sustainability.
“It is all about working to improve the customer experience. Operators and commercial airlines are under pressure to minimize costs while consistently delivering on-time. They are also aware that great ground handling is one of the most important components of smooth operations,” a UAS spokesperson says.
Training and Infrastructural Constraints
Concerning training, there has been an increased focus on “Operational Refresher” type training – especially during 2021 – to support team members who were stood down during the pandemic and away from operations for extended periods, according to Adam Whittle, training manager at Swissport Australia.
“This training was targeted at confirming both the competence and confidence of our employees to return to operational duties safely. During the pandemic the Australian commercial aviation industry saw an exodus of highly skilled and qualified workers,” he says. “This has had a significant impact on the number of employees available to perform complex operational duties such as towing, pushback, loading supervisor, etc., and it is driving demand for upskill training into ‘high skill roles’ within accelerated timeframes, i.e., normal timelines to progress from entry level roles to senior/complex roles have reduced.”
Low unemployment and labor shortages have significantly impacted recruitment pipelines, according to Whittle.
“Employee attrition remains high driving significantly higher volumes of initial/induction training than pre-pandemic,” he says. “We used the time during the pandemic to re-think our training approaches and significant investment was made into updating our training materials, making them more relevant to a contemporary workforce. This has seen much greater utilization of e-learning and multimedia within the training process.”
William Chew, head of learning and development at dnata Singapore, points out that the company has scaled up the use of e-learning in training with increased use of animations, live-action videos and 360 videos, to better illustrate the learning concepts and tasks.
“The pandemic has fast-tracked the incorporation of different approaches to learning,” he says.
For example, Chew notes blended learning, which is a combination of instructor-led and e-learning, and flip-classroom training, where learners complete e-learning modules before entering the classroom to apply their knowledge, are deployed where suitable.
“We are exploring using virtual reality (VR) in training to create a more immersive, interactive and realistic training environment,” he adds.
From an infrastructure constraint perspective, UAS officials point out that inefficiencies may occur with so many ground service providers working side-by-side.
“Over the past decades we have seen consistent efforts by IATA to set the standard for ground handling excellence globally,” the UAS spokesperson says. “Service providers agree that there are certain challenges that could be improved if certain systems were implemented or changes made to regulatory frameworks, operational standards, safety polices or data sharing, for example."
Some infrastructural challenges have also been around with regard to ground handling training, according to Whittle.
“There have been constraints on training facilities due to the significantly higher number of concurrent induction training courses being delivered,” he says. “In one of our ports, we have provisioned more than 70 laptops to support training activity, in addition to existing infrastructure already in place.”
Opportunities and Threats
Currently, aircraft ground handling training presents both opportunities and threats, according to Whittle.
“One opportunity is the use of technology to improve the effectiveness of training, drive consistency in training and improve the learning experience,” he says. “In addition, many of our airline partners are becoming more open to the concept of recognizing the prior skills/experience/training of our employees and appreciate that duplication of training (i.e., completing identical training for multiple airlines) may increase risk, rather than reduce it.”
Swissport Australia is working with its airline partners to focus on “differences” training to help its team members perform their roles more effectively.
“With a significant change in the composition of our workforce, there is also an opportunity to re-calibrate/re-baseline safety culture and organizational values through the training being provided to new employees. While this is an opportunity, it’s also a threat if we don’t manage this carefully,” says Whittle.
Chew adds 5G networks, cloud-based technology platforms and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies and data analytics offer many opportunities.
“The expansion of 5G networks and cloud-based technology platforms could allow, e.g., improved collaboration and access between various stations during VR training and better support scalability of content,” he says. “AI technologies and data analytics, for example, could also support the recording of information and processing of data during sessions with multiple learners to help both facilitators and learners with immediate feedback and improvement.”
According to UAS officials, moves to enhance ramp safety and efficiency are key.
“This can mean more efficient design or shared, up-to-the-minute info on bottlenecks, etc. Collating data from multiple industry sources in real-time and sharing it would go a long way to enable improved operational decisions,” the UAS spokesperson says. “By analyzing and identifying trends, we can really see how we can optimize the deployment of resources, reduce fuel consumption, time-wastage and congestion.”
Among the current threats, Whittle mentions the so called “green-on-green” risk.
“New team members working alongside other new/inexperienced team members present a challenge. We rely on ‘buddy’ training to help consolidate the skills and experience of new team members and in some locations, more than 50 percent of our workforce have less than six months' total operational experience,” he says. “In addition, the large volume of training in some locations means that there may not be enough trainers to support requirements.”
Several airline clients are rapidly scaling up – and sometimes scaling back – their operations and changing their aircraft fleet composition in response to travel demand, points out Whittle.
“This presents challenges in meeting the required volume of training and the specialized skillset training that is required, e.g., upskilling from bulk loaded to containerized aircraft,” he says.
Online training in the aircraft ground handling industry is currently in a steep growth phase, accelerated by the pandemic, according to Chew.
“It will become increasingly more common to enhance instructor-led practical training with blended learning,” he says. “Obtaining the knowledge of operational and safety concepts and theories via online training provides learners with suitable background before going into practical and on-the-job training.”
Swissport Australia utilizes online and digital learning for training its airport team members, where it is the most appropriate tool for the job, according to Whittle.
“It is especially suited to very standardized training where consistency in message and content is critical, i.e., knowledge transfer is a key outcome. Examples of where this type of training is deployed is most commonly during induction training or even knowledge based ‘recurrency’ training,” says Whittle. “We rarely leave employees to undertake online training solo/in isolation, especially for induction/onboarding. This type of training is nearly always delivered in an environment where a qualified trainer is available for support, to answer questions and clarify questions participants may have as well as debrief each training module before the training group moves onto the next topic or into the practical training environment for hands-on experience.”
The new ground handling training curriculum being introduced by Swissport Australia sees many traditional presentations being replaced by engaging, digital learning courses that incorporate activities and contain multimedia, such as videos, GIFs and more.
“These courses help participants to understand the ‘why’ we do, ‘what’ we do and to see ‘how’ the task is performed in a very consistent way that is not influenced by trainer bias, operational constraints, weather, etc.,” Whittle says. “The courses can be delivered in an e-learning format and debriefed by a trainer or presented by a trainer in lieu of a standard PowerPoint presentation. Participants can see an entire task being performed and then have that activity broken down into small, easily understood content chunks.”
Airline Specific Requirements
A peculiarity of the training business is the need to cater for airline specific requirements in aircraft ground handling training.
“Airlines provide airline-specific training materials and conduct train-the-trainer sessions, which we as their partner enhance by localizing and contextualizing the content,” says Chew. “dnata also has its internal global system, which is in line with international regulatory requirements and incorporates best practices, SOPs and work instructions across its network. These are used during internal training sessions and localized according to equipment type or local regulations.”
Whittle observes that many of Swissport Australia’s airline partners refer to the training already provided by Swissport to its employees and adopt a “differences” approach.
“In this way, the unique or specific requirements for an airline are overlayed across our standard operating procedures,” he says. “This is allows our team members to focus on key differences they must implement to ensure the individual needs of our customers are fulfilled.”