JetStream Prepares For Takeoff

Dec. 21, 2011
A combination of new technology and old-fashioned discipline helps ground service handler win business.

When we first talked with Richard Cordell, chief operating officer of JetStream Ground Services, he was at a hotel in Indianapolis, gearing up to hire a ground crew for a new contract the Jupiter, FL-based ground handler had just received from US Airways.

We’d done our homework beforehand and read his resume and past accomplishments with Delta Air Lines so w had to admit that we were more than a little surprised to hear that Cordell would be at the hotel and so entrenched in the hiring process.

He’d heard that before.

“What attracted a 30-year Delta guy to JetStream,” he asks and then set about answering his own question. “JetStream had experienced quite a bit of growth in its past 15 years. Smaller companies, early on can expand and make money. But to get past a certain threshold, that’s where it becomes difficult.”

Cordell did his homework, too, as he began talking with JetStream’s owners. The company had already invested in some cutting edge technology to manage ground support service, particularly for a company its size.

“The company’s owners knew they needed a certain level of expertise to get past the threshold the found themselves at,” Cordell told us, “and the more I talked, the more excited I got to since I knew I could really make a difference.”

Cordell signed on a COO about a year and a half ago, and along with another relative newcomer to the company, Blake Schultz Jr., vice president of sales and marketing, they’ve both been busy not only getting new business, but more importantly, honing the corporate culture that expects the best in ground service.

“I can sum up in one word what we needed to take the company to its next level – predictability,” Cordell says. When this COO talks about “operations,” he takes a very all-encompassing view. One of his first priorities, for example, in taking the job was that the human resources managers would also report to him.

“It’s very important in this business to have the HR policies and procedures of the company support the operational side of the business,” he explained. “When customers talk about JetStream, I want them to know they are getting the best. How you train new hires so they know on Day One what’s expected goes a long way to get the best performance. If you wait until the fourth day, a lot of confusion can already set in. What we expect from management and, more importantly, the information we provide them, makes a huge difference, too.”

Schultz concurs: “Our technological edge was something I knew I could sell. We’re delivering a better product at a lower cost – not just a lower-cost service. Airlines are always going to be looking for ways to lower their costs. If JetStream can provide this service to the airlines better than they can do it themselves, then you are there to win business.”

Thanks to that investment in new technology and old-fashioned discipline, airlines are taking notice of a ground handling service company that Cordell had to admit he really didn’t know or hear much about during his nearly 30 years at Delta.


As firmly entrenched in the airline business as Cordell is, he knows that price is always going to be king when it comes to bidding on work for ground service.

Cordell, however, doesn’t shy away from it, but rather makes sure that JetStream provide a true value proposition in its work.

“Again, that’s where predictability comes into play,” he explains. “We want companies to know that we deliver; that we are predictable. Are we price competitive? Yes we are. But what we need to do is to instill in our employees that desire to grow and perform flawlessly – and do it conscious of price, but also conscious of adding value to our business methods.”

Hence, we found Cordell at that hotel in Indianapolis participating in a job fair along with a couple of his HR staff and his safety and compliance staff as they all made hiring decisions to handle ramp service for the new contract with US Airways.

The job fair attracted management and ramp staff alike. After a screening process and hiring decision are made, Cordell’s staff will set up one week’s worth of classroom training for about 20 people. In the second week, the new hires will be taken to an existing operation in Columbus, OH, for a week of on-the-job training.

“We have a very well-thought out transition list, some five to six pages long with about 100 items,” Cordell adds. “But at some point, the training wheels come off and the new general manager has to run the show.”

The GM’s role is also different under Cordell’s leadership. In the past, the company purposefully brought in a GM from outside the company. Cordell, on the other hand, firmly believes in developing his workforce from within and providing them with all the data and information they need to run operations efficiently and effectively.

To see how that philosophy works, consider a recent contract that JetStream won to handle ground service for Delta Air Lines at Jackson-Evers International Airport, Jackson, MS. The company will provide below-the-wing support for Delta’s 12 daily departures. This represents JetStream’s first contract to with the airline.

“We need to shine in Jackson,” Cordell says, adding that operations with 10 to 25 flights a day is “our strike zone. There are tremendous opportunities for growth in those markets and we can make a big difference.”

Cordell promoted a shift manager from a Charlotte, NC, operation to be the GM at Jackson. The technological firepower given to the GM is one very important aspect that Cordell says isn’t necessary visible to his customers, “but is vital if we are trying to run an organization that’s predictable and that delivers flawlessly.


“It was a bit embarrassing to me that when I first came to JetStream, I couldn’t tell you how we did yesterday,” Cordell explains. “At Delta, I could tell you how we did in the last hour at every station.”

Essentially, Cordell know puts the budget in the hands of the GM at Jackson. “That may sound simple, but we wanted them to know what they should focus on so we concentrate on such variables, but controllable costs, such as wages and maintenance on GSE.”

From there, every Monday the company provides a financial dashboard – sort of a financial report card. Secondly, there’s a web-based operational dashboard. It’s mandatory for the GM to enter various performance metrics on a daily basis that might help pinpoint, say, causes for delays and other problems in performance. Last, but certainly not least to Cordell, the company has aligned its company goals with the goals of the GM.

Again, a simple enough sounding procedure that Cordell says makes a huge difference.

“Before, GMs were reviewed on their employment date,” he adds. “But now they are evaluated on a calendar year basis and we’ve also put into place a compensation package that provides a potential lump sum bonus that based on operational performance; financial performance and individual performance.

What’s more the GM’s operational goals are directly aligned with the goals of the carriers which they serve. So if the US Airways management, for example, has specific goals for baggage handling, our GMs not only know that, but can be rewarded accordingly. The programs really are self-funding since the programs enhance performance and profitability.”

Cordell firmly believes in the old management adage that what gets measured gets accomplished. There’s true accountability in the data and doesn’t just go into a black hole that the GM or other employees never hear about.

“I think that this year we built a firm foundation to excellence,” Cordell says. “In 2012 we’re looking to build that second layer of bricks. The changes we’ve made so for, while I’m certainly not saying they were easy to make, we’re easily identifiable. As we get better, it gets harder to perform at as high a level as we want.”

To keep pushing ahead, the company credits success to Workbridge, a mobile resource management software program owned by SITA. Successful airport ground handling requires quick decision-making combined with sophisticated capacity and resource management; the effective use of IT plays an essential role in achieving this.  The program improves communications in airport operations, provides real-time updates to a mobile workforce and enables more effective planning and allocation of resources.

“The program works in so many ways to help us in real-time to dispatch crews and enhance productivity,” Cordell adds. As an example, he used aircraft cleaning services.

“Often times, you’ll see the cleaning crew waiting on the jet bridge for passengers to deplane. That’s some of the biggest sources of nonproductive time.”

With the program, however, JetStream executives can analyze how long it takes to deplane a particular aircraft, how long it will take a crew in transit and a number of other variables that hinder productivity.

“It’s a great third set of eyes to help us identify ways to be as efficient as possible,” Cordell adds.