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.