How ground handling companies help airlines cut costs

The cleaning crew at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) boarded the Boeing 737 soon after the last of the passengers disembarked. Timing is everything.

“We are expected to spend not more than 7 minutes cleaning the entire aircraft,” said the cleaning crew’s supervisor. “If we exceed the time set for us, the airline will penalize my employer.”

A tug operated by a ground-handling company pulls a British Airways Boeing 747.

A tug operated by a ground-handling company pulls a British Airways Boeing 747.

The cleaning team works for a ground handling company at JKIA. The work of ground handling service providers is not immediately obvious to most travellers, but they are the people that handle your luggage, clean the cabin you will use, tow the aircraft at the apron, coordinate refueling and carry out the necessary visual inspections. Ground handling companies control access to the aircraft when it is on the ground by providing security.

As the cleaning crew at JKIA explained, efficient ground handling operations aim at reducing turnaround time and therefore improving the rate of aircraft utilization.

The work of ground handling companies is far from glamorous, but their services are helping airlines improve on profitability. It is simply not necessary for an airline to employ ground staff at every destination it flies to. Fewer staff means a reduced wage bill for airlines.

In Kenya, there are well developed ground handling services at major airports. The companies active in the sector include both foreign and home-grown players. Here’s a list of some of them:

  • Kenya Aerotech
  • Kenya Airways
  • Swissport
  • Tradewinds Aviation
  • Eurocraft Agencies
  • Siginon Group

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), airlines currently outsource more than 50% of ground handling work. “This trend is increasing,” says IATA.

Ground handling companies are expected to adhere to the IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations (ISAGO) which is meant to harmonize safety standards for ground operations.

Some ground handling providers have expanded their scope of work to include obtaining clearances for aircraft (landing, navigation and overflight), import and export documentation, weight and balance, as well as arranging accommodation and catering.

In short, the ground handlers can provide almost every service airlines need — for a fee of course.

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