Summer 2023

Ramp and airfield training

Ramp and airfield training

Training ramp operators to be able to work safely and effectively in the busy, dangerous environment of the airport ramp is just as important as ever, and the big ground service providers are investing heavily in their training programmes

Steve Clark, dnata’s head of global training, leads a team that was set up just a few years ago by the Dubai-headquartered aviation services provider to take on responsibility for network-wide training standards and delivery.

Previously, decisions on training requirements had been left to a greater extent in the hands of local stations, but dnata came to be recognise that it needed standardisation and consistency across all areas of its business across the world, including in the field of the training it offers and delivers at all its stations.

Clark and his team at dnata headquarters are there to drive training processes for all employees, to ensure that its operations teams are safe, effective and efficient. That is, after all, the point of training, he says. Of course, training will be adapted to take in local requirements or operational needs but, at its core, dnata’s standard training programme is designed to ensure that a high quality of handling and aircraft turnaround performance will be the norm whatever the dnata station.

The basic dnata training programme for its ground handlers is centred on the business’s own dnata Ground Operations Manual (dGOM), itself based on the International Air Transport Association’s Ground Operations Manual (IGOM). The programme sets high standards of competence in all aspects of aircraft turnarounds, training dnata ramp handlers according to standard operating procedures (SOPs) that are applicable right across its network.

The standard programme incorporates all the elements of ramp operations that any apron-based handler will require, including an introduction to aviation, safety and security, and so on. Task-related training is then provided depending on the role that an individual will be taking up within the business.

For those who will be working at some of dnata’s smaller stations and who are likely to have to fulfil several handling roles, their follow-on training is likely to be more complex, and may well also include training specific to the local regulatory or operational environment. And there is a hugely diverse mix of operating environments across the worldwide dnata station network, Clark points out.

All training is carried out at the local station level; there is no benefit in recalling trainees to Dubai, he continues. Supporting the vital practical training that is provided to everyone, eLearning tools are also made available. These are produced in Dubai but are of course accessible globally.

New entrants to dnata continue with on-the-job training, partly as this is mandated in many instances by the requirements of such baselines as IATA’s Airport Handling Manual (AHM) or

Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR) – perhaps every 36 months or so. But all dnata’s training procedures are, in essence, always ongoing, says Clark – “maintaining operational competencies to ensure we give our [airline clients] what they want and what they need”, as well as keeping dnata’s staff safe.

For example, training teams periodically go out to stations across the network to observe how aircraft turnarounds are handled, while dnata leadership teams will also oversee turnarounds to ensure that SOPs are followed. Moreover, local team leaders are encouraged to report on what they see on a day-to-day basis and identify where competencies might be slipping.

When an individual ramp handler returns to the apron after a time away – perhaps following maternity or paternity leave, for instance – they will be reassessed to ensure they are fit for operational work. If an individual is promoted to a more senior position, they will be provided with any additional training they will require in their new position.

Plus, says Clark, the aviation industry is – quite rightly – heavily regulated and monitored, and both internal and external audits (the latter carried out by customer carriers amongst others) also provide further data on operational performance in terms of adherence to SOPs that can be fed back into dnata training programmes and delivery schedules.

Ongoing improvement

Clark is keen to constantly improve what he and his team offer and provide on a daily basis. One way to do this is by leveraging the efficiencies that dnata adopted during the Covid crisis, he considers. Another is by benefiting from new technologies that are becoming available – such as virtual reality (VR) technology, which Clark believes can be used in a focused way to support the more traditional classroom- and ramp-based elements of training.

dnata has already run a pilot VR training exercise at one of its stations that demonstrated the potential value of the technology as part of a training delivery mix, Clark confirms.

Other technologies and systems, including artificial intelligence (AI), learning management systems and personalised training programmes, also represent potential opportunities for improving dnata’s training provision, he adds.

“We want to be an industry leader in [ramp training], as in other areas,” Clark concludes. “And there is an appetite for rapid improvement wherever possible across the aviation business,” not least because of the effects – and learnings – that arose from the Covid crisis.

Global standards

Lukas Wopmann, program manager Swissport Academy at global handler Swissport International AG, explains that Swissport maintains what it calls a Standard Training Program – “a company global standard that we are very proud of, as it serves all our colleagues working on the ramp around the world”.

As for the training each individual handler receives, he says: “The technical training of our ramp colleagues is defined into job role, the functions within the role and the tasks required to complete the function safely and efficiently.

“Within each airport, the functions of the ramp colleague may vary, from our large hub operations where job roles are very dedicated to ensure safe, efficient and quality operations, to small locations where the role may have many functions within it to give flexibility.

“The key is, each task training has a specific training module and these can be combined at each location according to their operational needs to ensure the same high standard of safety, efficiency and quality are delivered by our colleagues whether working on the ramp in South Korea, Boston, Rome or Zurich – the same training is applied.”

Indeed, each task has its own dedicated and maintained training module, available in many languages, but all exactly the same, and thereby driving standardisation within the organisation, Wopmann notes.

Follow-up training is available as needed, in part because a number of training topics are required under national law to be subject to refresher training. In other fields, mainly task-related training, a handler must ensure its ramp workers remain competent in the task. Swissport, among other organisations, has worked with industry trade bodies to modernise the way this is now performed, Wopmann informs. “It is possible to confirm competence by a recurrent assessment process which has rigour and structure,” he says.

Handlers’ training programmes must conform to certain requirements set by national authorities. Says Wopmann: “Of course where there is a pertinent national law, we ensure we comply with it to the fullest extent; for some topics not covered directly under national law, we apply our internal standards to ensure all colleagues are trained according to the industry guidance (specifically, IATA AHM1110).

“This harmonised global industry guidance serves to support a global standard for technical training across all our locations and helps our customer airlines to recognise that guidance is being met or exceeded, and so remove any additional cost on the airline to provide training when training has already taken place.”

Finally, Wopmann adds: “All of our training is subject to annual review, and this includes changes in regulation, such as the IATA Live Animal Regulations 2023, and other relevant regulatory or legislative changes. We also take the opportunity to review any safety learnings and introduce these topics as part of our safety management system (SMS) process.”

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