Almost unnoticed but vital to safety
THE SURGE IN THE NUMBER OF DOMESTIC AND INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS HAS SHARPLY BOOSTED THE GROUND HANDLING BUSINESS
The ground handling business in the country’s airports has recorded remarkable growth in the past several years amid the sharp increase in the number of airlines in the domestic aviation market.
The sharp increase in air traffic in the country’s major airports has resulted in an increase in the number of ground handling companies, which offer a wide range of services needed by an aircraft soon after it arrives at an airport and before it departs on another flight.
The services offered by ground handling companies range from cabin service, catering and air cargo handling to services at the ramp or apron such as guiding the aircraft into and out of the parking position and luggage handling or even providing check-in counter services for passengers departing on the customer airlines.
The services of ground handling companies often go unnoticed but they are vital in ensuring flight safety, on-time performance and customer satisfaction. To put it simply, safe and enjoyable flights are dependent on good ground handling services .
With its huge population and the rapid growth in airline operations, air transportation in Indonesia has increased
sharply in the past five years. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that the number of airline passengers in Indonesia will increase by about 132 million to 219 million by 2034 from about 87 million in 2014. This sharp increase in passenger numbers will turn Indonesia into the world’s fifth largest travel market in the world in the next 20 years.
The surge in the number of domestic and international flights in the last five years has sharply boosted the ground handling business. Although the number of companies involved in ground handling services has grown sharply in recent years, the country’s ground handling business market is still dominated by a few companies such as Jasa Angkasa Semesta (JAS) and Gapura Angkasa.
JAS and Gapura primarily serve most international airlines that fly into major Indonesian airports, with Gapura being notable for serving flag carrier Garuda Indonesia and its subsidiary Citilink.
Both companies have earned a reputation among domestic and international airlines as probably the two most reliable ground handling providers that Indonesia’s airports have to offer. They are also the only two ground handling services in Indonesia that operate with IATA’s Safety Audit and Ground Operation (ISAGO) certification.
In its 30 years of operations JAS primarily has served 30 international and domestic carriers that fly to Indonesia’s main airports, notably handling luggage, ground control, catering (through its sister company), lounge management and cargo handling.
Its clients range from premium carriers such as Singapore Airlines, Turkish Airways, Emirates and Cathay Pacific, to low-cost carriers such as AirAsia, Tiger Airways and Sriwijaya Air.
“By handling so many international carriers, we’ve become familiar with many different systems, thereby enabling us to accommodate the needs and standards of a particular international airline when it lands here,” JAS president director Adji Kurniawan said in an interview with The Jakarta Post.
JAS passenger services are available in 12 airports nationwide, along with cargo operations in five major airports including Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport, Medan’s Kualanamu International Airport and Surabaya’s Juanda International Airport.
Gapura meanwhile, operates an extensive network, serving 54 cities across the nation, with international clients such as Air China, China Airlines, Thai Airways, Qatar Airways, Malaysia Airlines and Qantas.
Gapura president director Agus Priyanto explained that it was up to the airlines to choose which ground handling service providers they wanted to work with.
“In some cases, such as Qatar Airways, JAS would serve them at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta, while we would serve them at Denpasar’s Ngurah Rai. It is ultimately up to the airline to decide who they want to be handled by,” he said in a recent interview with the Post.
The government is closely monitoring the ground handling services at local airports to ensure the services provided by the local companies are on a par with international standards. One of the government’s regulations, for example, limits the equipment age to between 10 and 15 years, depending on the type of equipment.
In a world that has an increasing dependency on technology, JAS president Adji said the rule could potentially hold back the operations of the ground handling industry as it would be inefficient to replace otherwise fully functioning equipment when it has merely reached 10 years of age.
However despite his view, JAS supports the government’s regulations.
Regarding the state of the ground handling industry and the possibility of competition from other handling companies, Adji said that as long as airports and airlines were aware of the certified players in the country, then the industry would not be damaged.
In terms of competition, he added, there was a tendency for smaller, regional airports to enlist the services of “uncertified” local ground handling companies. But without certification, it is almost certain that their
operations will fizzle out in time, due to the increasing demand for higher standards of service.
“I’m optimistic about the state of the ground handling business at the moment. As long as international carriers fly to Indonesia, they will request the assistance of trusted ground handling staff here, and we have always been ready to provide that service whenever needed,” he said.
Meanwhile, in order to maintain the strength and reliability of the industry, Agus said some problems faced by the industry needed to be fixed and addressed through the use of new technology and through innovation in existing operational standards.
Regarding innovation, Agus outlined that one aspect that should be immediately tackled is the lack of integrated communication between ground handling staff and the air navigation.
In order to help communication to become more efficient, Gapura is testing out a new system that enables the controller to track aircraft ground movements in real time from the comfort of the company’s office, Agus said.
“Our new Operating Control System has been on trial since October last year at Soekarno-Hatta airport, in order to improve the cooperation between the traffic control tower and the ground handling crew. Overall, this kind of innovation requires some time to be implemented in airports because it challenges the usual business process, but it is definitely worth it,” he said.
Within that target of sustaining the industry’s strength, Agus said that Gapura would aim to achieve Rp 1.5 trillion (US$114 million) in revenue by the end of 2016, a figure that is not that much higher than its 2015 achievement of Rp 1.4 trillion.
“The focus will be on the domestic market for now, because that’s where growth is the highest,“he said, adding that with the implementation of the ASEAN Open Sky Policy, Gapura had access to enter the ground handling market in other ASEAN member countries. But the most important thing for Gapura is to improve the quality of its services in order to be able to maintain its market share. Only through good quality could local ground handling companies prevent their ASEAN peers providing services in the country.
JP/Ricky Yudhistira Fresh from the oven: Workers prepare in-flight meals at the Aerofood ACS catering facility at Ngurah Rai International Airport.
JP/Jerry Adiguna This way: An aircraft marshaller guides an aircraft at Ngurah Rai International Airport. The ground handling business has grown rapidly in recent years due to a sharp increase in the number of new airplanes in the country.
Just arrived: Workers unload cargo from a Lufthansa airplane at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. The German airline is among the major international airlines serving the Frankfurt-Jakarta route.
JP/Lucky R Small repairs: A female mechanic conducts repair work at the fourth hangar of the Garuda Maintenance Facility (GMF) in Tangerang, Banten. The demand for aircraft technicians has increased sharply in recent years amid the country’s rapidly growing airline business.