Overseeing GSE on the ramp

No post image

As so many of the world’s airports welcome more and more business to their runways and their facilities, the pressure on managing congested aprons becomes more and more acute. Airside talked to three busy airport operators about how they seek to ensure that the GSE used on their ramp is of the required standard and managed correctly

Northern Europe’s biggest air hub is Copenhagen Airport, operated by Copenhagen Airports A/S. There are four handlers providing passenger services at the gateway: SAS Ground Handling, Aviator, Menzies Aviation and Copenhagen Flight Services. In regards to cargo, Spirit Air Cargo Handling, WFS, DHL, FedEx, PostNord and Kuehne + Nagel all provide freight ground services, while SAS Ground Handling, Aviator and DHL all operate on the ramp. Moreover, ASE handles general aviation traffic through the airport.

Like so many others across Europe and elsewhere, Copenhagen Airport is getting ever busier, and the equipment needed to handle its growing aviation operations is expanding commensurately. Mie Rajcic, operational business development for operator Copenhagen Airports A/S, observes: “In 2016, 29 million passengers travelled through Copenhagen Airport – an increase of 9.1% compared to 2015. In 2016, the number of aircraft operations increased by 4.3% to 265,784 take-offs and landings. A total of 1,200 pieces of GSE support the operation and ensure an efficient turnaround process.”

​Since 2011, traffic through the hub has increased by 28%. Compared to the increase in traffic, the amount of equipment required to support it has increased by approximately 34%. That increase in the overall GSE inventory has been driven primarily by the arrival of Menzies as a handler in 2015, but also by a change in the airport’s aircraft mix and peak-time processes. Many airlines have phased out smaller aircraft in favour of larger models, for example.

​In the main, airport operators rely on third-party service providers – handlers – to operate and manage their GSE safely and efficiently, and have little direct, day-to-day control. But they can certainly seek to put in place safeguards and incentives to encourage such good practice. Thus: “It is each handler’s responsibility to oversee its own GSE,” Rajcic confirms. “Currently, we do not have any SLAs [service level agreements] with the handling companies in regards to GSE deployment and use on the apron; but this is something that we would like to look into, as the area around the main piers is compact.

​“GSE need to be placed close to stands in order to ensure an efficient and safe operation, while meeting airlines’ demands for a short turnaround time. This is a challenge in a compact airport and calls for strong leadership to ensure tidiness and order. Defining a common SLA with all partners would most likely affect the use of [GSE on the] apron.”

Pushing a green agenda

The equipment on Copenhagen’s ramp is getting ever more sophisticated, partly under the pressure on handlers to improve efficiency and minimise environmental impact. Rajcic explains: “Several of our handlers are looking into digital solutions for tracking and monitoring their GSE. Meanwhile, the airport has a role in terms of ensuring a transition from diesel-driven GSE to green GSE.

​“The airport’s environmental work ensures that Copenhagen Airport is operated and developed in a responsible manner that enables continuing improvements in its environmental results. Once a year CPH undertakes an audit in which all changes in GSE are registered. This is a control precaution to be sure that handlers comply with targets set for implementing green GSE.”

​CPH has introduced a range of measures to minimise the harmful environmental impact of the GSE used on its apron. In 2007, it established an Air Quality Program with different working groups consisting of partners from a broad range of service providers. All parties involved are obliged to work towards a decrease in emission levels at the airport. “This common goal is integrated in the terms of use and incorporated into a letter of intent signed by all partners,” Rajcic notes.

​“The Copenhagen Airports Air Quality Program both encourages handlers to go green with their GSE and to meet set targets. We have seen a general preference towards greener GSE, since employees also push for this. We all have a common interest in a greener airport.”

​Just like the existing players, all new handlers coming to Copenhagen have to adhere to its environmental strictures. “All service providers entering the airport must operate with a certain standard of GSE. This means that they need to comply with the Air Quality Program and the terms of use,” Rajcic says.

​As to the future: “As space is an issue in Copenhagen, as at many other airports, we would like to see smaller, more automatically handled GSE. Some of the GSE on the market still needs further development to add value to the daily operation of aircraft handling.

​“We would like to see more automation in general on the ramp. A lot of innovation and development has been done with passenger handling. Airports have invested in self-service check in and bag drop and optimised that part of the value chain. But, on the ramp, little has been done.

​“It would benefit our common customers (airlines) if handlers and airports initiated projects with a focus on automatisation below-wing, both in regards to passenger and cargo handling,” Rajcic concludes.

Range of responsibilities

Elsewhere in Scandinavia, at Stockholm Arlanda Airport – the biggest and busiest of Sweden’s air gateways – national airport operator Swedavia also relies on third-party handlers to provide the necessary airside services; it owns and operates no GSE itself there. All such equipment is owned by the three ground handling companies active at Arlanda: SAS Ground Handling Sweden AB, Menzies and Aviator.

​However, at the smaller (regional Swedish) airports owned by Swedavia, the owner/operator does undertake its own ground handling services and therefore owns and operates GSE equipment.

​The feeling is that the amount of GSE in use at the Stockholm hub is increasing, reports Per Lindgren, Arlanda’s ground operation manager. Aircraft movements have increased in number, a phenomenon that has resulted in ground handling companies acquiring more equipment. “One problem we have right now is to find storage space for unit load devices (ULDs),” Lindgren says. “The number of ULDs being left at the airport has increased. A couple of years ago, handling companies had an excess of equipment; it is not so today.”

​When it comes to monitoring/overseeing the GSE on Arlanda’s apron, the gateway’s Airport Regulations (AR) govern ground handling companies’ activities through contracts they hold with the airport. “In these AR, strict rules regarding GSE and their movements apply,” Lindgren informs. “Furthermore, at Arlanda we have an SMR (surface movement radar) system for additional security.”

​The agreements or contracts signed by Swedavia and its service providers are not SLAs per se. Each contract signed by Swedavia and its handlers states that the rules and regulations must be followed, and equipment use is covered by several different AR.

As for how modern and efficient that equipment might be, Swedavia has, of course, only limited control. “Declining profitability contributes to our handlers not replacing their equipment to the extent we would wish,” Lindgren remarks. In general, he doesn’t expect that larger aircraft will lead to larger GSE, with a possible exception being push-back tractors required for code F aircraft like the A380.

​Finally, he points out that sharing common GSE is “probably an issue that will be discussed in the future at Arlanda Airport”. And GSE pooling is certainly becoming an increasing focus of many airport operators, not just Swedavia.

The gateway to Latin America

It’s not just in Europe that airport operators have to keep a close eye on ramp operations and how handlers manage their GSE. Miami International Airport (MIA) is one of the world’s busiest airports. It has five ground handling companies that have contracts with their various airline customers, providing below and above the aircraft belly service, including ticket counter and customer service.

​The scale of the handling operation at MIA is huge, and there has been growth in the scale of GSE use over the past two decades, as many legacy carries began using third-party ground handlers in preference to their own employees. This is part of the wider process of recent years that has seen numerous carriers, US airlines in particular, seeking to concentrate on their core business – usually flying passengers, though it might well also involve flying cargo – and leaving the multifaceted business of ground, passenger and cargo handling to specialist third-party service providers.

​The size of the GSE fleet has also increased directly as a consequence of greater numbers of aircraft movements through Miami, the gateway’s operator, Miami-Dade County’s Aviation Department, notes.

When it comes to monitoring and overseeing use of that GSE on the MIA apron: “Miami-Dade Aviation Department [MDAD] airside operations agents and enforcement units on patrol have this responsibility,” remarks Lonny Craven, MDAD’s airside aviation director.

“We require that all ground handlers have GSE equipment for all the operations that they contract for. No derelict equipment is permitted and no maintenance work in the storage areas is provided,” he continues.

​As to whether MDAD can encourage or force its handlers to operate certain sorts or models of GSE, Craven informs: “Yes, we can, via enforcement of Miami-Dade County Code Chapter 25 Rules and Regulations, the issuance of airside operations area (AOA) operations motor vehicle inspections and permits, and through Chapter 25 civil violations with monetary fines.”

​As at Copenhagen (and more and more airports around the world), emissions represent a particular issue on which MDAD is striving to achieve best practices. For example, “Some areas are restricted to zero-emission (electric) motor vehicles only,” Craven points out.

​And when it comes to choosing a new handler partner for MIA, the quality of their GSE fleet certainly affects the Aviation Department’s decision, “because safety- or emissions-related issues with the equipment may result in an AOA permit not being issued, which would prohibit the vehicle from operating on the AOA”. (AOA permits are the means by which motor vehicles and ground handling equipment are authorised to enter and/or be on the AOA.)​

Like Lindgren at Swedavia, Craven confirms that the changing nature of the aircraft the airport is asked to handle (more composite aircraft, for instance) has not materially affected the sorts of GSE operating at the gateway. But “there has been a move towards fast tugs or super tugs, defined as towbarless tugs, that tow aircraft at speeds of up to 25 mph”, he observes.