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.

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.

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.”

Swedish company showcases cooling and heating system that can slash emissions at regional hubs

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Smart Climate in Umea, Sweden, has developed an innovative and environmentally friendly smart cooling and heating system for aircraft cabins that will slash emissions at regional airports.

The ‘Pure Generation AC’ solution will enable airports to get a new source of income while reducing emissions by up to 99%, as well as helping airlines save money.

While on the ground aircraft require ventilation and heating or cooling solutions to keep cabin temperatures comfortable for crew and passengers. This is traditionally done using diesel or electrically powered AC units. However, sometimes it can be an aircraft’s jet engine (APU) that burns aviation fuel – an APU can produce up to 700kg of carbon dioxide emissions per hour, the equivalent to the emissions produced driving a car form Stockholm to Barcelona in Spain.

“There are already major initiatives underway to restructure the aviation industry and there will be an even stronger competitive effort regarding low emissions and reduced energy use”, says Emma W Flodén, CEO of Smart Climate.

The company is already active in the Swedish domestic market with Luleå Airport and Ängelholm / Helsingborg Airports as satisfied customers.

“Now we want to offer our solution to airports in the rest of Europe, and are looking for partner airports that demand greener and more energy-efficient solutions.”

Smart Climate’s solution uses the water-borne system for heating or cooling that already exists at airports and provides environmentally-friendly ventilation in a cost-effective way. By replacing existing solutions, Pure Generation AC can provide the airport with a new source of revenue, save money for airlines and reduce emissions by up to 99%.

In addition, an increasing number of airports are also reviewing their electricity capacity as the need to charge batteries and convert to electric vehicles grows. Using Pure Generation AC means airports can free up electrical capacity that might be needed elsewhere in the business, which enables their conversion ambitions to green energy to happen even faster.

Luleå Airport in Sweden reduced its overall energy use by 40% and electricity use by 95% for parked aircraft with the help of Smart Climate’s Pure Generation AC.

Menzies wins contract with Ultra Air at four Colombian airports

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Menzies Aviation has been awarded a three-year contract to cover ground handling services for the new ultra low-cost carrier, Ultra Air at four airports in Colombia: Bogotá, Medellin, Barranquilla and Cali.

Colombia is experiencing rapid growth in the aviation industry and this contract further strengthens Menzies’ position in the market as a global ground services company.

John Redmond, Executive Vice President – Americas, Menzies Aviation said: “We are excited to expand our presence in Colombia and are proud to have supported Ultra Air’s successful launch. Working with Ultra Air presents a unique opportunity for us to lend our expertise to a new airline as it establishes itself and we look forward to strengthening our relationship with Ultra Air as the business expands.”

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.

Frankfurt joins Air Menzies International’s global network

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In pursuit of growth across Europe, leading air freight wholesaler, Air Menzies International (AMI) has added Frankfurt Airport in Germany to its global network.

The addition of the German hub marks AMI’s 24th location and reinforces the freight wholesaler’s ability to ensure the reliable movement of freight between its locations.

As Europe’s busiest airport for cargo traffic – Frankfurt handled more than 1.8 million tonnes of cargo in 2020 – the opening at this location also strengthens AMI’s presence in Europe. The airport has flights to more than 300 destinations in 94 countries, enabling AMI to work even more effectively with its worldwide network partners.

Jonathan Clark, AMI’s CEO, said: “Increasing our presence across Europe has always been a key component of our growth strategy. Germany is a major manufacturing hub in Europe, making it essential to have a presence there, and as the business capital of Germany, Frankfurt is the ideal strategic location. The addition of Frankfurt to our network means we now have 24 branches globally, with more planned to be added in 2022 and beyond.”

At its new German branch, AMI will offer a variety of wholesale air freight services, including door-to-door services on global import and export shipments; exports with consolidation and Back2Back; Click2Ship, its market leading platform for express shipments; X-ray screening and warehousing services; as well as customs clearance and documentation support.

Menzies partners with Shell to strengthen presence at seven UK hubs

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Shell Aviation has renewed its contract with aviation logistics specialist Menzies Aviation for the provision of into-plane fuelling operations across the fuel supplier’s entire UK fuelling network, spanning seven airports.

The agreement will see Menzies maintain its existing relationship with Shell Aviation at hubs including London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Birmingham, London Luton, Manchester and London Stansted airports. It has also been extended to include Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

Christos Papastergiou, Regional Operations Manager, Shell Aviation, said: “Menzies has a strong track record as a safe and efficient operator. We value their approach to continuous improvement and Menzies continually seek new solutions for Shell and our customers. We’re pleased to extend this long-term partnership.”

Morven McCrindle, Executive Vice President – Fuels, Menzies Aviation, added: “We have a long-standing relationship with Shell Aviation in the UK and have increasingly grown our fuels service provision for them, taking our partnership from strength to strength. This latest award sees a further expansion of our fuels business and we are delighted to continue working with Shell as we look to grow our fuels portfolio globally.”

Menzies celebrates ground services contracts in Mexico

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Global aviation logistics specialist, Menzies Aviation, is strengthening its presence in Latin America thanks to several new ground services contracts in Mexico. The contracts with American Airlines, Air Canada, Delta Air Lines, Flair Airlines, Frontier Airlines and TAG Airlines mean Menzies now operates at 31 airports in the region.

John Redmond, Executive VP – Americas, Menzies Aviation commented: “We are excited to further expand our presence in Latin America with these new contract wins across Mexico, which highlight the positive reputation Menzies has built for providing safe, secure and consistent quality service across the region. We look forward to continuing to strengthen and grow our relationships with each of these airlines in the future.”

For American Airlines Menzies has been awarded the contract for the delivery of passenger, ramp and cabin cleaning services at Chetumal and for ramp and cabin cleaning cleaning services at Manzanillo. Chetumal is a new airport for Menzies’ Mexico operations.

At Cancun (CUN), Mexico’s second busiest airport, Menzies is providing Aeroflot with passenger, ramp, and cabin cleaning services. The Russian carrier has recently launched operations at the airport and is a new customer for Menzies at this location.

At Huatulco and Zihuantanejo airports, Menzies has secured contracts to provide ramp and cabin cleaning services for Air Canada.

Delta has awarded Menzies ramp and cabin cleaning services contracts at two stations in Mexico, which will see Menzies servicing 355 flights a year from Guadalajara Airport (GDL) and 575 flights a year at Monterrey Airport (MTY). Monterrey is a new station for Menzies, becoming its 31st airport in Mexico, and its 40th in the Latin America region.

Meanwhile Flair Airlines has selected Menzies to provide ground handling services at Los Cabos and Cancun from February. The Canadian ultra-low-cost carrier is establishing new routes for its start up across Mexico.

Frontier Airlines has also awarded Menzies the contract for the provision of ground handling services at Cancun, and similarly TAG has also awarded a ground handling services contract to Menzies at Cancun, as well as Merida, Oaxaca, Tuxla Gutierrez and Guadalajara. The TAG contract is a significant win for Menzies and will bring an additional 1,667 turns to the business in Mexico.