Ground handlers and airports unite to address complex operational challenges

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The Airport Services Association (ASA) and Airports Council International (ACI) Europe have issued a joint statement addressing the complex operational issues faced by ground handlers and airports alike as we enter what the industry is forecasting will be a busy summer travel season.

While ASA’s Managing Director, Fabio Gamba, and ACI Europe’s Director General, Olivier Jankovec, welcome the return of air travel after the devastating impact of COVID-19 on their respective industries, they agreed that the recovery of passenger traffic has accelerated sharply and suddenly. “While still remaining below pre-pandemic (2019) levels, passenger traffic has also become much more concentrated over peak periods,” their statement read. “In fact, at many airports traffic peaks are at, or higher than, pre-pandemic levels.

Coping with this sudden increase in air traffic has proved challenging for airports and their operational partners, in particular ground handlers. It has resulted in an increase in flight delays and cancellations, as well as a degraded passenger experience at many airports, as key processes including check-in, security screening and baggage delivery involve longer waiting times.

The main underlying reason for these disruptions has been the difficulty to scale up staffing to the levels required to accommodate the surge in passenger traffic.

Outlining the reasons for the staff crunch, the two organisations said the cause is: Airports and ground handlers have been forced to lay off staff due to the collapse in air traffic in 2020 and 2021. “The fact that airports and ground handlers received far less financial aid than airlines and that such aid came rather late was a significant contributing factor to their weakened operational capabilities.”

The extremely tight labour market across Europe was another contributing factor. “The fact that security and ground handling jobs have for many years stood at the lower end of the pay scales and also involve working in shifts seven days a week is a clear handicap in attracting people in the current inflationary environment.”

In the case of ground handling in particular, years of liberalisation triggered by the EU Ground Handling Directive, have resulted in a downward spiral that has now become both socially and operationally unsustainable. If low wages and compromised service quality were already a concern pre-pandemic, they are now coming to the fore.

Finally the training and security clearance requirements have also made it impossible to quickly adapt and deploy additional staff. It can take up to 16 weeks between staff recruitment and deployment.

While both associations that in the short-term there is no quick and easy fix to the staffing issues, they highlighted that disruptions could be reduced by: Faster security clearance from competent authorities for airport and ground handling staff; Airlines adapting their schedules to reduce traffic peaks and returning unused slots as early as possible; Effective and even closer dialogue and cooperation between all partners involved.

“In the medium-term, EU rules on ground handling need to be reconsidered with a renewed focus on resilience. It is crucial that no further liberalisation of ground handling is pursued without a robust legal package aimed at guaranteeing a minimum quality of service and the promotion and recognition of the ground handling workers’ skills through, for instance the creation of widely recognised training passports. Also, the ability to set an upper limit on the number of ground handling suppliers based on the size of the market (or airport) would go a long way in addressing both social and operational shortcomings,” the statement concluded.

Four airports in the Bahamas confirm delivery of Oshkosh ARFF vehicles

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Oshkosh Airport Products has delivered four of its Striker ARFF vehicles to four airports in The Bahamas, including: Leonard Thompson International Airport in Marsh Harbour, Lynden Pindling International Airport in Nassau, Exuma International Airport in Moss Town and North Eleuthera International Airport.

Made up of 16 main islands The Bahamas’ Airport Network is comprised of 20 international airports, which receive scheduled commercial air services from the US, Canada, Europe, and Latin America. The airports serve more than 3.5 million air travellers each year.

“The Oshkosh custom designed and purpose built ARFF chassis with the TAK-4 independent suspension offers superior mobility and payload capacity to complete demanding missions.” said Jack Bermingham, Business Unit Director for Oshkosh Airport Products. “We remain dedicated to providing exemplary service and partnership to support any of their needs in the years ahead.”

Header image: The Commonwealth of The Bahamas have taken delivery of four Oshkosh Airport Products Striker® 4×4 ARFF vehicles

Goldhofer showcases sustainable, perfectly tuned powertrain solution for fleet of electric tow tractors

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Goldhofer has partnered with ARADEX to equip its zero-emission SHERPA-E cargo and pushback tractors as well as its PHOENIX-E towbarless aircraft tractor with battery-powered motors and inverters.

For airport operators, ground handlers and airlines, this solution is integral to offering economical and environmentally friendly baggage and cargo transportation options on the apron, in addition to aircraft handling with a maximum take-off weight of up to 352 tonnes.

Developed by ARADEX, the electric powertrains have been designed to meet the specific requirements of airport operations. They offer high torques as well as balanced and finely tuned power transmission. Offering a space and weight saving solution, the compact power packs are mounted directly on the axle and do not require a gearbox.

“At airports around the world, cargo and aircraft tractors have to satisfy extremely tough requirements each and every day,” said Thomas Vetter, Founder and member of the Executive Board at ARADEX. “This also applies to electrically powered vehicles. I am all the more delighted therefore that, together with Goldhofer, we have succeeded in optimising the configuration of our high-torque drive train so that it is not only very robust but also ensures reliable and balanced towing operations with maximum sensitivity and control.”

Vetter was joined by Goldhofer Head of Airport Technology, Lothar Holder, who said: “Together with ARADEX, we have developed a highly sustainable and perfectly tuned powertrain solution for our fleet of electric tow tractors. It not only provides enormous power, but also develops and delivers it finely controlled.”

Numerous studies and extensive testing at airports including Munich, Zurich and Los Angeles, has shown that emission-free apron handling using the SHERPA-E and PHOENIX-E is both technically feasible and cost-effective. “Since 2019, more and more of our cargo handling customers have been opting for the extremely high-performance solutions integrated in the SHERPA-E. Demand is increasing at a fast pace. Also with the delivery of the first PHOENIX-E to our customer, Lufthansa/ LEOS in December 2021, Goldhofer’s battery-powered solution with ARADEX drive trains is demonstrating its performance capability and efficiency – also in the context of the demanding operational profiles of towbarless towing – and setting the benchmark in this sector,” added Holder.

Veovo: The trouble with TOBT…and how machine learning can improve it

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Airport performance relies on accurate off block times. Operators have all the data to make it so. It’s a matter of knowing how to put it to work, as Justin Keen, Product Manager at Veovo explains.

In a sea of aviation acronyms, none has such a broad or deep impact on airport performance as TOBT: Target Off Block Time.
TOBT is the exact moment when airlines and ground handlers predict an aircraft will go off blocks – when passengers are seated, doors are closed, the boarding bridge has pulled away, and the plane will leave its stand.

All airport partners work in sync, based on the TOBT, to turn around aircraft as efficiently as possible, allowing traffic control to optimise the departure sequence based on the expected readiness of flights. But when things go wrong, cost, punctuality and customer experience can take a severe hit. For busier airports, inaccurate TOBTs can also impact runway capacity and the wider air traffic flow.

TOBT – the king of pre-departure milestones

Of course, a target off block time does not live in isolation. It’s one of several milestones within an Airport Collaborative Decision Making (ACDM) framework used by airports and their partners to share a common situational awareness of the pre-departure process. But TOBT is the king of milestones upon which all others are derived.

TOBT is initially automatically calculated by the airport based on the flight arrival information. About 30 to 40 minutes before departure, usually, when the turnaround process has started, airlines and ground handlers coordinate and update the time based on the operational situation. The TOBT must be updated at least 10 mins before departure to ensure that it is relevant and useful.

And therein lies the challenge.

This critical milestone relies on busy airline or ground staff to manually estimate departure readiness within two minutes. That’s a lot of pressure to come up with an accurate estimate. It also relies on their experience with estimating – a challenge if they’re new to the job – and whether they genuinely have good visibility of the situation and all its moving parts.
As a result, the accuracy of this milestone can vary widely. Many large airports report it to be less than 60% accurate within 5 minutes, with even fewer TOBTs accurate to within 2 minutes. The result is significant knock-on effects on apron congestion, gate resourcing planning and departure sequencing, and even the wider regional air traffic flow.

But there is a better way?

Machine learning as a cornerstone of predictions

By automating the prediction of off-block times, operators can achieve far more accurate and stable off-block performance than when relying on the estimates of a distracted ground crew.

Three capabilities make AI and, in particular, its subset machine-learning, exceptionally powerful in predicting off block times.

1. Machine learning can process massive amounts of data.
Machine learning can help by quickly sifting through rich data pools to analyse past off-block time performance and identify patterns. Data used to train the prediction model can include origin, destination, carrier, aircraft type, gate, passenger load, boarding times and airfield condition – vast amounts of data from different sources, all contributing to greater accuracy in off block timings.

2. Machine learning can provide granular predictions in real-time.
Predicted off block times are not a static milestone. As a machine learning engine ingests data in real-time – such as live flight, weather, boarding, passenger flow or video analytics capture of ground handler activities – it dynamically updates predictions based on the situation.

3. Machine learning can continuously learn and improve outcomes.
A machine learning model can be continually refined, automatically learning from past events to make better predictions or adjusting the hierarchy of data point weighting to ensure the most accurate, available data source is used in the calculation.

Bringing machine learning to life

A few years ago, Veovo made the shift to embed “learn from real data” a priority for all our products going forward. We could see huge benefits in making our technology more adaptable, reduce the complexity in configuration, and develop systems that ultimately got better over time. With this in mind, we set about building core prediction capabilities driven by AI and ML that would harness what airports and their partners already have – lots of data – to make faster, more accurate forecasts.

The Veovo ‘Airport ML at scale’ approach is built on lessons from multiple airport client engagements. We’ve created a framework and predictor engine that not only powers our next generation of products but that can easily be added as a service on top of any current infrastructure. We firmly believe that this is the future of airport technology, where enhanced services like this are easily integrated to deliver real operational benefits quickly.

dnata to acquire cargo handling operation at Cologne Bonn

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One of the world’s largest air service providers dnata is expanding its cargo operations into Germany with the planned acquisition of Germany-based Wisskirchen Handling Services (Wisskirchen). The deal, which will see dnata acquire 100% of the shares in Wisskirchen is subject to approval by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action in Germany.

The exclusive operator of the Cologne Bonn Cargo Centre, Wisskirchen offers a 12,000 sq.m. facility at Cologne Bonn Airport. It provides a full range of cargo services via a team of 180 highly-trained employees. Wisskirchen handles more than 85,000 tonnes of cargo annually, including general cargo, perishables, pharmaceuticals, dangerous goods, electronics and fast moving consumer goods.

Operating 24 hours a day, Cologne Bonn is ideally located in the heart of Northwest Europe offering excellent road connections. In 2021 cargo volumes handled at the airport increased by 14% year on year, marking a new annual record for the airport.

“We are delighted to announce dnata’s first cargo investment in Germany,” said Stewart Angus, dnata’s Regional CEO for Europe, explaining that the acquisition is part of the company’s broader investment in cargo infrastructure.

“Since 2014 we have invested in nine new cargo facilities in Europe. We look forward to playing our role in the next stage of development of Cologne/Bonn Airport as a major cargo hub.”

Meanwhile, Thilo Schmid, Chairman of the Executive Board of Cologne Bonn Airport said: “We are delighted to welcome dnata, a renowned global player in the field of airport services, to Cologne/Bonn. The commitment of dnata will help to further increase the efficiency in cargo handling in our Cargo Center and is proof of the great location quality of Cologne/Bonn Airport as well as its central importance as the most important logistics hub in NRW.”

This latest announcement from dnata follows significant investments  in advanced infrastructure to enhance the company’s cargo offering in recent years. These have included the opening of a state-of-the-art cargo facilities in Manchester (UK), Karachi and Lahore (Pakistan), and additional cargo capacity in Brussels (Belgium), Sydney (Australia) and Toronto (Canada). dnata has also announced it will invest over €200 million in its operations in Amsterdam (The Netherlands), and operate one of the world’s largest and most advanced cargo facilities at Schiphol Airport. In addition, this spring it will open the second phase of the dnata City East project at London Heathrow in the UK.

Goldhofer’s PHOENIX E proves a hit at Frankfurt Airport

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Since making its debut with Lufthansa LEOS at Frankfurt Airport last December, the PHOENIX E towbarless aircraft tractor has proven itself to be an efficient piece of kit that has exceeded expectations. The towbarless tractor is also in line with LEOS’ strategy for sustainable, zero-emission ground operations.

“Not only the drivers but also the mechanics in the hangar for example are excited about this vehicle,” said Peter Unger, CEO of Lufthansa LEOS. Referencing how the first three months of ground handling with Lufthansa LEOS have generated a mass of operational data with initial conclusions already drawing on the suitability of the Goldhofer electric tractor for everyday use, he added: “The results to date indicate savings in excess of what we had expected and planned.”

The flagship model of Goldhofer’s towbarless aircraft tractors, the PHOENIX E offers speeds of up to 25km/h for maintenance towing. It also has the versatility to handle the full range of today’s aircraft up to a maximum take-off weight (MOW) of 352 tonnes (for example a Boeing B777/ Airbus A350) – ie approximately 80% of all aircraft movements at the airport.

With its PHOENIX E model, Goldfer has succeeded in developing a battery-powered version that delivers the same performance as the equivalent diesel model. The zero-emission, sustainable-operation tow tractor boasts the same range of performance in terms of tractive power, maneuverability and reliability as the diesel version, and offers additional advantages such as lower operating costs and longer maintenance cycles. With its modular battery concept, the PHOENIX E has a battery capacity of 66-165kWh depending on operational requirements. A hybrid solution with a range extender powertrain is also available.

Thanks to its IonMaster technology – a highly efficient and powerful electric drive concept with 700 V lithium-ion batteries – the PHOENIX E works up to 10 hours a day and handles up to 20 tows without any loss of power. In addition the Thermal Management System (TMS), which is part of the IonMaster concept, maintains a constant battery temperature between +15 and +40°C for an up to 25% greater range and longer battery life. Meanwhile, the dedicated charging infrastructure allows for fast charging so that vehicles can complete their long working days without any loss of power.

Unger concluded: “The data available shows that we can perform more tows than assumed in the simulations. Our expectations have been exceeded by far and we are planning to acquire another PHOENIX E at the end of the year.”

Self-driving shuttle bus takes to the roads around Birmingham Airport

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As part of trials underway in Solihull in the UK, a state-of-the-art self-driving shuttle bus will take to the roads around Birmingham Airport over the next six weeks. The trial is part of a council-led project to test how Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) might be integrated into the area’s local transport network in the future.

The zero emissions self-driving shuttle was initially demoed at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) last Autumn, where it operated autonomously on Solihull roads for the first time, while carrying carrying passengers.

This latest deployment will see the shuttle, which will be limited to a top speed of 20 mph, transporting passengers around a longer and more complex route at the airport, while interacting with other road users. The trial route will provide airport staff with a new temporary service linking the departures entrance to one of the car parks. As well as airport staff the bus will also be available for members of the public to use.

Nick Barton, Chief Executive, Birmingham Airport said: “Autonomous technology promises enormous benefits to airports and the service companies that support them, with the potential to transform the way we work and improve efficiency and safety, for passengers, staff and other airport users.
“We are really excited to be working with Solihull Council on this trial, which will provide us with invaluable insight into how we can start to safely incorporate CAVs into our vehicle fleet. This trial of fully electric vehicles, and testing their capabilities on site, is making sure we are working towards our net zero carbon target by 2033.”

The success of this trial at Birmingham Airport will provide further knowledge and experience of self-driving vehicles in a real-world environment providing the evidence to support the technology being rolled out at scale across Solihull in the future.

Describing his delight at working with Solihull council and Birmingham Airport, Miles Garner, Sales and Marketing Director at autonomous shuttle manufacturer, Aurrigo, added: “Aviation is a major opportunity for Aurrigo, with a genuine desire to find new technologies that can improve the passenger experience. This could be through our driver-less shuttles, our Auto-Sim modelling software or it could be through our Auto-Dolly cargo/luggage dolly that can replace the traditional tugs that are commonplace in airports all over the world.

“We’ve recently completed projects at Changi Airport in Singapore and Gerald R. Ford International in North America, putting the UK on the global map for autonomous technology deployment.”

Rolls-Royce and Air bp partner on SAF agreement for engine tests

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Engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce has inked a deal with Air bp for all of aviation fuel supplied for engine testing at the engine manufacturers facilities in Derby and Bristol, UK and Dahlewitz, Germany will be a 10% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) blend. Deliveries will begin this summer with the 10% neat SAF element totalling around three million litres a year.

Derived primarily from waste-based sustainable feedstocks such as used cooking oils the SAF supplied by Air bp will be blended with traditional aviation fuel.

As part of the deal Air bp will also provide the fuel for the first run of the Rolls-Royce UltraFan demonstrator engine, which will be carried out entirely on 100% SAF later this year. The largest aero engine in the world, the UltraFan will deliver improved fuel burn efficiency and 100% SAF capability.

“This agreement delivers on a commitment we made that the fuel for testing and development is a 10% Sustainable Aviation Fuel blend by 2023,” said Chris Cholerton, President – Civil Aerospace, Rolls-Royce.

“We want to encourage the use of SAF throughout the aviation industry and this agreement is an example of the firm commitments fuel producers require to support their continued production investment.

“I will be proud and excited to see the UltraFan on our state-of-the-art testbed running for the first time on 100% SAF, creating a new chapter in engineering excellence and sustainable aviation history.”

Meanwhile, Air bp’s Global Sustainability Director, Andreea Moyes, commented: “We are delighted to be supporting Rolls-Royce to achieve their sustainability goals. As bp transitions to an integrated energy company, we are leveraging our expertise in the sourcing of renewable feedstocks, SAF production, logistics and end customer supply. Our ambition is to be the decarbonisation partner in the aviation industry and we are working at pace to promote SAF availability, accessibility and affordability to support global aviation in realising its low carbon ambitions.”

Norwegian partners with Neste for SAF supply

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Norwegian is collaborating with Neste, a producer of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to enable the airline’s corporate customers to reduce their carbon footprint by purchasing SAF.

Norwegian’s modern and fuel-efficient aircraft can tank up to 50% SAF. Key to decarbonising aviation in the short-term, SAF is a drop-in fuel, which is able to reduce lifecycle carbon emissions by up to 80%.

Anders Fagernaes, Vice President Sustainability in Norwegian, commented: “With Neste’s SAF we enable corporate customers to reduce CO2 emissions from business travel. Accelerating the voluntary market for SAF sends a signal to scale production and improve economies of scale, which is much needed to reduce costs.”

In line with government blending mandates, in 2022 Norwegian will blend in 0.5% SAF on all fuel consumption in Norway and 1% in Sweden and France. All voluntary purchases from corporate customers are in addition to these government mandates.

Scan Global Logististics (SGL) is one of the airline’s corporate customers that has partnered with Norwegian and Neste to make significant steps in reducing its business travel impact on the environment. It has set an ambitious target of reducing its emissions by 50% every 10 years. Under its with Neste and Norwegian, SGL covered the additional cost for 7 tonnes of Neste MY SAF, which was used on Norwegian flights in 2021. This reduced SGL’s CO2 emissions from business ravel by 21 tonnes.

“We want to be at the forefront of the transition,” said Allan Melgaard, Global CEO in SGL. “To do so we must adopt smart technologies when they become available. With this initial pilot we reduced our CO2 emissions from business travel in 2021 by 10%, which is the reduction we need for all emissions areas every year.”

In addition, Norwegian has decided to purchase SAF for all its administration related business travel in 2022, replacing the fossil jet fuel consumption.

Havas acquires Zagreb ground handling company

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Based in Turkey, the global ground handling brand Havas has acquired MZLZ Ground Handling Services operating at Zagreb Airport in Croatia. In 2019 the Croatian air transport hub served more than 3 million passengers and 45,000 flights as well as 13,000 tonnes of cargo.

A TAV Airports and Groupe ADP company, Havas already operates at 29 airports in Turkey, as well as at Riga Airport in Latvia and now Zagreb. The new agreement provides Havas with control of passenger, ramp, representation and supervision services, as well as flight operation, load control, communication services and cargo and mail services at the Croatian hub.

“We focus on consistently improving our operations through innovative solutions and providing the best service to our airline collaborations,” said Havas General Manager S. Mete Erna. “As a member of the Turquality programme, we take the opportunities to achieve growth abroad with the know-how we have gained in Turkey. Approximately 30 airlines regularly fly to Zagreb Airport, which is a significant touristic destination in the Adriatic.”

Going forward, Havas will act as the sole ground handling service provider at Zagreb Airport, which also handles cargo and general aviation traffic.  “We will increase the efficiency of our operations, sustain our investments in ground handling services and continue to be the preferred business partner of airlines,” added Erna.