Excellent opportunity

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Pim Stam, Co-Chairman at the recent GSE Buyers’ Conference, concluded that it was an “excellent opportunity for us to obtain leads and advice from leading members of our business.”

 This year’s ‘2nd GSE Buyers’ Conference’, dedicated to the procurement of Ground Support Equipment, took place in Amsterdam on 19th-20th April amidst global tensions and economic uncertainty. Both have deepened since the GSE 2011 inaugural gathering in London.

Armed conflict in the Middle East, concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the forthcoming US presidential election have increased perceptions of political risk. The world economy also faces challenges, with the Eurozone debt crisis unresolved and the USA showing only tentative signs of recovery.

“Because these economic and geo-political factors play such a major role in the success of our industry, we must adapt to this ever more challenging environment,” stated Conference Co-Chairman Peter Speck, Vice-President, Head of Corporate Supply & GSE Maintenance Management, Swissport International Ltd & Swissport Group Services LLC, in his opening remarks. “Airlines, ground handlers, airport operators as well as manufacturers and vendors delivering goods and services are all in this together. Hence it is important that we learn from each other and share experiences.”

Sustainability, the promotion of common principles and values, and the importance of aviation ethics nevertheless figured high on the agenda. Yet as Conference Co-chairman Pim Stam, Director Procurement Ground Operations France and the Netherlands, Air France/KLM, noted, “…in the end we must secure the future financial viability of our organisations.” A frank exchange of views among industry leaders and practitioners, aimed at promoting long-term if ethically-based prosperity, was thus a prominent conference aim.

Other goals included creating a forum for debate on all aspects of GSE procurement from a global perspective, improving safety and ecological standards in the manufacture and operation of GSE, improving management of airside assets, sharing industry know-how, and enabling people involved in buying, selling, inventing, designing, manufacturing and using GSE to meet. Topics ranged from ‘GSE Procurement Methods’ to ‘Going Green’ and ‘Aircraft De-icing’ to ‘Managing Maintenance When Money Matters.’ Yet some of the most fruitful discourse, and the opportunity to make invaluable contacts, occurred over evening dinner and drinks – as is the way of the world.

Five subjects dominated the conference agenda: Procurement/Leasing and Their Finance; Tracking, Tracing and Managing Mobile Assets; Aircraft De-Icing; Staying Safe; and Going Green. These reflected concerns both over the financial viability, efficacy, security, modernity and future of the sector, and over the safe and environmentally sustainable operation of GSE.

The conference proper opened with a panel discussion comprising GSE buyers experienced in a range of methods to procure new and used equipment, including open tender, e-auctions and preferred suppliers. Speakers deemed data gathering, demonstrations, corporate reference-taking, maintenance costs and analysis of the supplier base as essential to a global overview.

Eric de Harder, General Manager of TCR, a firm supplying long and short-term GSE rental services that include maintenance, fleet management and ramp assistance, highlighted his firm’s progress over 25 years. He argued cogently for GSE leasing solutions, given ownership costs such as maintenance, finance, depreciation and the issue of residual value. Rental companies such as his specialised in asset management and optimisation of the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Moreover, he pointed out that less than 50% of TCO of a piece of equipment was linked to the purchase price of that asset. With annual revenues of €75m, an €150m balance sheet, €35m in equity, a presence in 11 countries at 50-plus international airports in Europe and the USA, and clients including independent handling companies, airlines and express freight carriers, TCR is indeed thriving.

Later in the morning, Simon Zitcer, Operations Director, Havaş Europe, discussed ‘GSE procurement from the network procurement point of view: a case study.’ Havaş specialises in airport services, supplying tailored ground handling to airlines and client companies at airports in Northern Europe. The company favours network procurement of new equipment from leading firms and multiple sites, to meet numerous contracts involving many clients. This facilitates cost reductions on GSE and spare parts, the standardisation of network equipment procurement, training and usage, time-savings in terms of quotations and tendering, simplified monitoring and tracking of equipment, and the lowering of administrative overheads. Havaş aims to establish a professional procurement network that will lead and guide companies on all procurement issues.

After lunch, Andreas Vassilaros, Projects Director of Scandanavian airport services company Aviator, discussed integrated, multisite, GSE procurement. Aviator, whose clients include AirFrance, British Airways and KLM, provides airport services – including ground handling, de-icing, GSE shops, glycol re-cycling, PRM-handling, aircraft-washing robots and security – at 23 stations. GSE is the firm’s most important procurement and the pillar of its strategy. Mr Vassilaros outlined how economies of scale, new, efficient aircraft, automation and optimal aircraft utilisation could lower unit costs and thus airfares, resulting in market growth, further unit cost reductions and higher corporate profitability; however, more stringent environmental, safety and efficiency demands on airports, as well as future ones on GSE producers, could affect the value chain.

The general theme of airside asset management, together with the tracking, tracing and maintenance of mobile and other assets, figured three times on the conference agenda. Diogenis Papiomytis, Principal Consultant, Aerospace and Defence, Frost & Sullivan, discussed ‘Airside Asset Management: Market Trends & Challenges’. Such ‘assets’ include tools, parts, staff, vehicles, GSE, passengers, footfall traffic, bags, services, and units on board and their condition; hence, professional asset management can clearly facilitate the development of an Integrated Airport IT platform. High investment and implementation complexity remain major obstacles, yet airside asset management has been a significant growth area since 2005. Moreover, the future augurs growing numbers of Business Intelligence integration projects driven by airport authorities, IT companies delivering sophisticated solutions, and market consolidation.

In ‘Managing Maintenance When Money Matters’, Jack Evans, CEO, Total Airport Services Inc., discussed the evolution of superior equipment maintenance training, the tracking of maintenance costs and the development of leadership programmes for managers, as a means of limiting expenditure and lowering risk. A preventative maintenance cycle for each piece of equipment reduced the number of breakdown repairs, while calculating average cost per operating hour helped to track maintenance expenditure. Excessive downtime and high costs of repair were usually a signal for equipment replacement; nevertheless, a complete maintenance programme could keep GSE running efficiently for many years, Mr Evans argued.

Aircraft de-icing was the theme of two presentations. Within this context, Joachim Püschner, Managing Director, EFM, referred to the ‘Four Pillars of Success’: competence and co-operation, infrastructure, communication and recycling of de-icing fluids. The ‘Munich Method’ indeed encompasses fluid management, vehicle maintenance and vital communication between the airport, the airline, the de-icers and the pilot, facilitated by the ‘Daisy’ system, which integrates command, control, communication and information functions. Each is deemed essential for safe and successful operations. Figures suggest that recycling of de-icing fluids over 20 years will save 21,600.500 litres of neat ADF Type 1 (80% per cent concentrated), reducing CO2 emissions, the use of non-renewable natural resources and waste-water.

‘De-icing operations, Amsterdam Airport Schipol’ complemented the earlier paper. Arjen Piest, De-Icing Operations Manager for Air France/KLM with responsibility for training and facilities, discussed in detail the dangers of snow and ice deposits to plane functions and the practicalities of their elimination. Over the past 10 years, poor or no de-icing has caused over 20 reported incidents/accidents worldwide. KLM de-icing covers around 92% of the market at Schipol, and is the sole supplier of remote de-icing. It utilises 26 Safeaero 220s Single-man, control-by-wire and fluid-efficient de-icers, six open baskets (FMC) for commuter flights in heavy winter conditions, numerous support vehicles at a central, de-icing facility located between main runways, and basic skills simulator training.

Given that disruption to aviation costs billions of dollars annually, ‘Emergency Management: Adequate Preparedness Pays Off!’ was the apposite title of Geneva Airport Safety Officer Thomas Romig’s paper. Mr Romig advocates a strategic planning process to protect organisations from hazards, a systematic process to ensure business continuity and the return to normal operations, and a cyclical process to identify failures, improve emergency and contingency plans, and calculate and mitigate risk. Regular testing of systems or processes, and the evaluation of emergency plans, are a key feature, with Emergency Management integrated with the organisation’s Safety Management System and aerodrome operations. Preparedness is key to the efficiency and effectiveness of the response, enabling speedy recovery and a return to normal and minimally affected operations. A successful emergency plan – such as that for snow-clearing – should also integrate and involve all personnel and stakeholders.

‘Staying Safe’ was indeed the subject of further conference debate, with a panel of experts examining the safety implications for GSE manufacturing standards and trends. Did safety issues hamper progress or drive innovation and development?  Did safety features carry export implications? Was labelling a significant safety feature? Most importantly, did safety take priority in the GSE arena?

In ‘Staying Safe: What Does This Mean in Terms of Operations’, Ian Swallow, B.A. Corporate Safety Manager, Aircraft Damage, argued that safe GSE lowered the risk of injury to staff and damage to the GSE. Yet little consideration appeared to be given to damage that GSE could do to highly expensive planes. He advocated a predictive vs reactive approach involving the sharing of data by GSE manufacturers on aircraft damage occurrence, and the implementation of stringent safety measures. Recurrent practical training for ground handling staff, the introduction of up-to-date protective padding and technology, and the continuous improvement of systems and training could also prove effective.

Simon Walker, Managing Director, Virtual Aviation College Ltd, spoke on the subject of education and training in contributing to safety standards. He advocated a Safety Management System that ensured that inputs and supplies provided by external organisations did not erode safety. Proactive and predictive approaches could identify current and possible future safety risks, while Safety Management System building blocks, as well as training and education, could reinforce the safety message.

‘Going Green’ was the final, major conference topic. Leonie Dobbie, Head, Sustainable Aviation and Airports, and Administrator, Airport Carbon Accreditation, WSP, discussed the implications for airports of GHG (carbon) limits and the link between GHG and the ground handling equipment operated on site. Most strategies deployed by airports addressed merely local air quality and not GHG levels. Ms Dobbie pointed out that GSE/airside vehicles’ share of airport emissions accounted for 5-25% of airport Nox emissions and 15-50% of PM, and that ‘GSE and carbon management’ was still an emerging issue. Nevertheless, she gave examples of airports attempting to address CO2 emissions, urged others to implement measures to ensure that GSE – including that owned and operated by third parties – met future sustainability targets, and outlined ways in which GSE operators could improve their GHG record.

Valentin Schmitt, CEO, TLD-EUROPE, rounded off the environmental theme with a paper entitled, ‘Going Green: Who Should Pay?’ He argued that green issues should be addressed all along the value chain, through energy efficiency, an energy change from diesel to electric, a reduction in airplane consumption and the manufacture of environmentally-friendly GSE. He took as an example the newly-designed, optimised TLD GPU-4000, which offers per annum fuel savings worth US$10,000. Mr Schmitt also stressed the environmental importance of switching off turbines at airports, the total annual cost of which he put at over US$8.7bn and 23m tons of CO2. Instead, he advocated the TaxiBot, a pilot-controlled, semi-robotic, airplane-taxiing, towbar-less tractor that allowed pilots to keep their engines switched off until shortly before take-off, thus securing significant reductions in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. New, cleaner, greener, fuel-efficient approaches were essential to the pursuit of an ecologically sound aviation environment, Mr Schmitt argued.

Ground-handling, the machines that make it possible and their procurement are vital components of the aviation industry, and the GSE Buyers’ 2012 Conference approached the subject from many angles. Moreover, as Conference Co-Chairman Pim Stam concluded, this was an “excellent opportunity for us to obtain leads and advice from leading members of our business, and this valuable exchange of views will help to ensure our future prosperity.”