When the global airport ground handling community meets in person in Paris at the 34th IATA Ground Handling Conference (IGHC), May 31-June 2, key among the topics to be discussed will be accommodating the surging demand for air travel with shrunken staff levels.
Successful ground operations are vital to sustaining the industry’s recovery. Unfortunately, after the greatest downturn in history, aviation is facing severe labor shortages and challenges in recruiting and retaining staff, up and down the line, particularly amid ground staff. Restoring thousands of ground services jobs without the benefit of the “institutional memory” of those who have permanently left the industry is a massive challenge. Compounding this is the fact that recruiting, training and accrediting new staff can take up to six months, largely owing to lengthy background security checks.
Pre-COVID, obtaining security clearances took an average of five to six weeks. In some cases, it’s taking much longer now. This is outside the airlines’ and airports’ control and is dependent on resources available in government departments. Government support to help overcome this logjam is essential. We have already seen significant disruptions at some airports in Europe related to staff shortages.
The scaling-up of operations to meet demand will be facilitated and sustained by increased compliance with global standards. A standardized and globally accepted framework for safe and efficient ground operations is crucial. Fortunately, such a document exists: the IATA Ground Operations Manual (IGOM).
For more than 10 years, the IGOM has been the standard reference for airlines and ground service providers (GSPs), it’s regularly updated guidance proving invaluable in a highly fragmented business sector. There are hundreds of users worldwide and the adoption rate is good; but the ground handling community needs to accelerate the global adoption of IGOM to ensure worldwide operational consistency and safety. To support this, IATA has launched the IGOM portal. A user-friendly online platform where airlines and ground handlers can share the results of their gap analysis between company procedures and IGOM, offering a global benchmark for harmonization and driving efficiency.
Overlaying the IGOM is the IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations (ISAGO), which is an industry global standard for the oversight and audit of GSPs. It encompasses and provides an independent assessment of all aspects of managing and providing safe ground handling services. More than 450 audit reports are available for sharing and the number is continuously increasing. In 2021 alone, nearly 300 audits were conducted. IATA is urging governments to recognize ISAGO in their regulatory frameworks for oversight. This will deliver significant benefits, including greater harmonization, Safety Management System (SMS) implementation by the ground handlers, and reduction of wasteful duplicative audits that providers must often undergo.