3 Steps to a Cleaner Airport

Dec. 2, 2015

An airport building is a vast facility. A single terminal may span 300,000 square feet while its ceilings may rise up to two stories high and the walls may consist primarily of glass. While all of these things add up to a spacious open facility that keeps the thousands of travelers passing through feeling comfortable, it also totals up to a massive space to maintain and keep clean.

“There are a number of factors that pose challenges when trying to keep an airport clean. One is the simple fact that airports can be extremely busy … and schedules change a lot. Cleaning crews are tasked to work around large volumes of people,” says Steve Ashkin, president of The Ashkin Group, a national consulting group formed to help green the cleaning industry.

While traditionally airports hire a cleaning contractor rather than maintain an in-house cleaning staff, they still have a role in keeping such a spacious and crowded space clean. It is the airport facility manager’s responsibility to hire the right cleaning contractor for the job, and this is where Ashkin offers some key advice.

“I recommend a three-step bidding process,” he says. “This way only the most qualified vendors are considered for the job. The last thing you want is to award a cleaning contract and find out after the fact that the contractor is unable to complete the job to your specifications.”


Step One: Request Specific Info

“Airports will attract plenty of interest for their cleaning needs,” says Ashkin. “Who wouldn’t want to get into an airport? These are lucrative contracts.”

Because it’s true that a multi-year, high-dollar contract might attract volumes of bidders—both good and bad, qualified and under-qualified, Ashkin recommends airports take steps to sift out the wheat from the chaff. He recommends asking vendors to answer key questions during the Request for Information process, which will enable airports to prequalify potential vendors.

He says airport facility managers should ask potential bidders to supply information about their experience cleaning airports, their management systems, their hiring and training programs, their green cleaning experience and certifications, and their work with waste collection and recycling. They also should acquire information on how long they’ve been in business, their experience complying with federal and state regulations, insurance coverage, and a list of references. “These are all things that need to be in place in order to meet the cleaning needs of an airport,” he says.

“Generally when you get very specific, small contractors who are not already doing these things will deselect from the process,” Ashkin adds. “The whole purpose of this step is that instead of getting 100 bids, you will get 10. If you get 100 bids and only 10 are qualified, you’ll waste a lot of time evaluating each one.”


Step Two: The Prebid Meeting

Once the airport facility manager has evaluated each vendor’s RFI against set criteria, the next step is to invite qualified vendors to a prebid meeting at the airport.

“It is important at that meeting to discuss your expectations in as great of detail as possible,” Ashkin says. “Airports operate 24 hours a day. Do you want cleaners on the floor cleaning throughout the day or only at specific times? Do restrooms get cleaned in the morning and at night, or at periodic intervals throughout the day? How often do floors need to be washed and vacuumed? Will the vendor be required to clean the windows as well? The airport facilities manager needs to clearly detail what they expect.”

Because this is also an opportunity for vendors to evaluate the airport as a potential client, it is important to take the time to provide them with detailed information about the facility. What is the cleanable square footage? How much traffic moves through the airport in a single day? How many restrooms need to be cleaned? What types of flooring must be cared for?

Finally, most airports strive to embrace green cleaning, not because it’s better for occupant health per se, but rather because they are large consumers of cleaning products and as a government entity they have a responsibility to reduce environmental impacts to the community and to save money. Thus Ashkin says it’s also important to specifically detail what the airport’s requirements are for green cleaning. He adds it’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel, and recommends pulling language found in LEED v4 for Building Operations and Maintenance (EB O&M) to describe the airport’s green cleaning requirements.

“You can’t just say you want a green cleaning program. You need to be specific,” Ashkin says. “Use LEED EB O&M as a reference and ask that the vendor have specific certifications, such as Green Seal 42 or ISSA’s CIMS certification. If a contractor has these certifications, they will meet green cleaning needs. Both programs are built around the requirements of LEED EBOM.”

Finally provide information on how the airport plans to measure the results of their cleaning efforts. Will the evaluation be based on passenger complaints or quality inspections? “The better job the airport articulates this, the easier it is to get everyone on the same page,” Ashkin says.


Step 3: Request for Proposal

“By the time you get to the selection process, all of your vendors will be prequalified,” says Ashkin. “They’ve all attended a prebid meeting and everyone has had an opportunity to size each other up.”

At this point, the airport puts their needs out to bid and the vendors who’ve participated in this process thus far submit their proposals. “Out of 10 prebid meetings, don’t be surprised if you only receive five proposals,” says Ashkin. “This is OK. All bidders are equal at this point, and you are now selecting from the best of the best.”

Before making a final selection, Ashkin recommends asking a few more questions. At this point, it’s important to know if the vendor has a site manager with airport experience in place. “This is extremely valuable,” he says. “Even if a vendor has all the right things in place in terms of cleaning systems and training, if they don’t have an experienced site manager, they may still be unable to carry out the work. A strong seasoned person with experience working in airports is a must.”

He also recommends gathering specifics about the vendor’s training program for workers. This program should cover the specifics of cleaning and working in an airport environment as well as be provided in a language cleaners will understand. “An all-English training program won’t work well if the majority of the workers speak Spanish,” Ashkin explains. “The training materials need to be specific to airports as well. Airports are different than office buildings.”

Knowing whether the company is committed to ongoing innovation is also important, he adds. “The cleaning industry is constantly changing,” he says. “Airports are big facilities and can use new equipment designed to make the job more effective and efficient. You want to be sure the contractor is constantly looking at new developments and considering them for use in your facility,” he says.

“Cleaning is cleaning, but a bidder needs to understand what it takes to clean an airport,” says Ashkin. “Following these three steps helps airports get the level of clean that they need. If you accept the low bid without doing your due diligence, and you are unhappy afterward, I hate to say it but you get what you pay for. Hire a consultant before bidding begins to know exactly what’s needed to keep the facility clean. Know what level of appearance passengers expect and exactly what it will cost per square feet to get you there.”