Auxiliary Services to Air Transport: What is behind a flight operation?


If we ask any passenger about their next trip, we find that most of them think that during the flight they are in the hands of the pilot and we tend to think the same way. Well, the truth lies in the fact that no flight crew can operate without a large team of people doing their groundwork.

Behind the operation of a flight there are providers of “Auxiliary Services to Air Transport” that are technical services specialized in supporting air transport operations. Ground handling addresses many services required for the aircraft; from the time it arrives at the terminal to the time it departs on its next flight. Speed, efficiency and precision are important in ground-handling services to minimize response time. This is the time during which the aircraft must remain parked in the terminal; these services include the following activities:

1. Operational Flight Dispatch

There is a team in the operations center of each airline, which monitors every minute of the flight.  They are called the eyes and ears of the crew. So much so that, when the pilot announces a change of route due to weather conditions, for example, it is likely that this decision was not made by the pilot in the cabin of the plane, but by the flight dispatcher in the center of ground operations that could even be hundreds of kilometers away from where the aircraft is located.

Dispatchers not only plan the flight, they monitor it and are ready to provide any information pilots require, at any time.

2 Ramp Service

These are services that are provided on the airport platform or runway and are directly related to all the activities that are carried out with the aircraft to execute the flight. Among the main ones we find:

  • Guide the aircraft in and out of the parking position, both at landing when it is routed to the passenger sleeves to disembark, and at takeoff when the aircraft is driven to the runway.
  • Load water for the toilets in the aircraft and drain.
  • Supply engine-starting units.
  • Handle the loading and unloading of luggage, generally by means of belt loaders and luggage carts.
  • Handle air cargo, generally through loading platforms and loaders.
  • Refueling, which can be done with a refueling tank truck or refueling pump.
  • Provide power on the ground (so that the engines do not need to be running to provide power to the aircraft on the ground).
  • Provide passenger stairs (used in place of a bridge or aerial stairs. Some airlines on a budget use both to improve response speed).
  • Provide wheelchair lifts, if passengers require them.
  • Supply hydraulic mules (units that provide hydraulic energy to an aircraft externally).
  • Provide de-icing equipment, which is the process of removing snow, ice or frost from the surface of the aircraft using chemicals that not only defrost, but also protect the surface and help delay the formation of ice during a certain period of time, or avoid ice adhesion to facilitate mechanical removal.

3. Passenger services

These services are carried out at the airport terminal and range from the passenger’s arrival at the airport to boarding the aircraft or leaving the terminal. Among the main tasks we find:

  • Provide counter services for the registration and billing (check-in) of each passenger prior to boarding the flight.
  • Provide assistance to passengers on arrival and departure at the boarding gate.
  • Staff the transfer and customer service desks.

4. Catering Service

It consists of loading and unloading food and beverages that will be served during the flight for both passengers and crew. The service is not limited to preparing food, but it must comply with sanitation standards, adequate forms of packaging, as well as waste management. This service should ensure, as far as possible, minimal preparation activities in the air, limiting them to heating the food when necessary.

5. Cleaning and disinfection of aircraft

The first step is cleaning the exterior of the aircraft, the fuselage. Care is taken in areas such as propellers, brakes and the surroundings of electric chargers to ensure that there are no elements that cause static. While the exterior cleaning is carried out, so is the cabin work, both cleaning and disinfection. For these activities, there are international standards that must be followed and are constantly updated.

It must be taken into account that the majority of airlines subcontract these auxiliary services and that their providers are generally the same airports, and assistance agents that are duly qualified by the aeronautical authority of each country or even another airline. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), it is estimated that airlines outsource more than 50% of ground-handling services to fulfill their operations at airports around the world.

Therefore, compliance with local regulations and excellence in the provision of these services make airlines opt to subcontract them, allowing operations to be carried out quickly and effectively. All this translates this efficiency into greater safety of operations and of course optimization and better profits.


Verónica Olivo
Associate at CorralRosales

Delayed or Canceled Flight? What the passenger does not know


Your luggage was checked, you boarding pass is at hand, you pass through the security filters, waiting for the call to board, and suddenly, you look at the information panel in the waiting room and see the message nobody likes to get: “delayed or canceled flight”.

Although the passenger does not know the causes of flight delays and cancellations and everything is in apparent normality at the airport, the operation of a flight implies the existence of several factors that must be perfectly aligned.

The following are the most common causes of flight delay or cancellation.

1.- Weather conditions

Heavy rains and snowfall during the winter months are well known; these can delay ground operations and hinder landing or take off maneuvers. The sunny summer arrives and the season of greatest passenger traffic begins: family vacations, meetings with friends, sunny days to enjoy, and a climate that would seem pleasant to fly. However, the combination of high temperatures and summer winds can surprisingly result in a storm that may result imperceptible at ground level.

During the summer months, the hot air rises and interacts with the cold air that is in the upper atmosphere. This mixture causes water vapor to condense and storm clouds with lightning to form at great heights; the lighting cannot be seen from the surface.

In general, airlines coordinate with Air Traffic Control if a change in landing or take-off routes is needed to avoid these thunderstorm clouds. But the operation could continue to represent a risk for ground workers who are on the platform carrying out activities prior to the departure or arrival of flights, such as aircraft fueling, luggage transfer, inspection and cleaning of aircrafts, etc.

Then, due to weather changes, delays or cancellations of scheduled itineraries occur. In these cases, the airline is exempt from the obligation to compensate passengers for the damages that they could have suffered as established in the regulations of “Provisions for Compensation to Users for Flight Delays”, because the facts are not attributable to the company.

2.- Operational modifications

For the optimization of operations and greater efficiency in fuel consumption, an aircraft may be scheduled to fly to several destinations. In this case, a delay in another station could cause what is called “drag delay”; that is, a problem in another airport could result in a delay in the operation of the next flight in some other point.

Likewise, there are operating conditions that must be met to ensure flight safety, such as checking that the crew has complied with the mandatory rest time stated in the aviation technical regulations or ensuring that the members responsible for the flight operation are fit to embark. It is uncommon, but there have been cases in which there is an unforeseen health problem in an officer or senior cabin crewmember, which represents a decrease in the crew that is impossible to cover immediately.

Ecuadorian aeronautical regulations control the operation in cases of early departure or delays in the time of takeoff / landing. Resolution 120/2017 determines the obligation for the airline to notify, with due justification, any change in the time of departure and arrival, applying international processes and standards.

Unscheduled Maintenance:

The airlines comply with an aircraft maintenance schedule, previously approved by the local Aeronautical Authority, who, as the controlling body, will verify compliance. These are called scheduled maintenance. But aircrafts are machines and therefore susceptible to unforeseen damage, which may cause inevitable delays in the operation of a flight. Each technical problem must be documented and recorded in accordance with the protocol established in the manuals of each company; this is done to ensure the safety of passengers, crew and ground personnel.

The airlines that operate in Ecuador have programs, policies and manuals that govern each operational process of their flights. In the case of international airlines, these procedures are subject to a certification process carried out by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation based on the Technical Aviation Regulations, known as RDAC. For international operators it is the RDCAC 129 and for domestic airlines the RDAC 121.

Airlines publish constant and first-hand information in their social networks when events like these happen, and seek to offer the passenger immediate solutions, to the extent possible, so that they arrive safely at their destination.

Finally, for airlines, the security of their operations will always come first. Therefore, when conditions are not safe for a flight, delays and cancellations, even if they are annoying for users, are unavoidable for the benefit of the passengers themselves, crew, and the ground workers.

Verónica Olivo
Associate en CorralRosales