Ground Han­dling in Africa: A frag­mented In­dus­try?

IN AFRICA: A FRAG­MENTED IN­DUS­TRY?

Nomad Africa Magazine - - Inside Issue11 - Words: MARIO PIEROBON

Africa is a very dy­namic re­gion for the avi­a­tion in­dus­try, where it is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing growth thanks to an over­all in­crease in po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity in many parts of the con­ti­nent over the last sev­eral years.

The first thing that should be pointed out is that the air­craft ground han­dling in­fra­struc­ture across the African con­ti­nent is very frag­mented, as over time, it has evolved fol­low­ing dif­fer­ent pat­terns. “It gets bet­ter in some parts of Africa, but re­quires sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in oth­ers. Some in­ter­na­tional ground han­dling or­gan­i­sa­tions have come in to im­prove the sit­u­a­tion even though other home­based ground han­dling agents (GHA) in a few coun­tries have de­vel­oped with proper struc­tures and re­sources for of­fer­ing re­li­able air­craft ground han­dling ser­vices,” says Tom Ogendo, cur­rently head of pas­sen­ger ser­vices at Kenya Air­ways where he was head of ramp op­er­a­tions from 2012 to 2016.

Kenya Air­ways has a ground han­dling divi­sion – Kenya Air­ways Ground Han­dling Ser­vices – which has been ISAGO cer­ti­fied for the last six years and has op­er­a­tions in JKIA Air­port in Nairobi and MIA in Mom­basa. The com­pany is the lead­ing ground han­dling ser­vice provider in Kenya, where, be­sides han­dling Kenya Air­ways’ air­craft, it also han­dles some 20 other air­lines that fly to Nairobi and Mom­basa.

“The air­craft ground han­dling in­fra­struc­ture across the African con­ti­nent is aged and in need of a bust in fund­ing. Most of the ground han­dling in­fra­struc­ture was es­tab­lished in the 70s and 80s and has not re­ally changed since then. The change, if any, that has taken place is for the worse, due to the high costs of newer equip­ment, which is needed in most coun­tries,” says Len­nia Bikoko, an air­craft ground han­dling qual­ity and safety pro­fes­sional. “Con­tract­ing re­li­able part­ners is a re­ally big chal­lenge, the big­ger com­pa­nies are more in­ter­ested in tak­ing over rather than en­gag­ing in a part­ner­ship.” The growth and devel­op­ment of ground han­dling ser­vices has been ham­pered by pro­tec­tion­ist poli­cies by a num­ber of states, points out Ogendo.

“In most coun­tries, the ground han­dling ser­vice com­pa­nies are state-owned and, in such cases, most of these are mo­nop­o­lies. Due to lack of com­pe­ti­tion, there is lit­tle in­vest­ment to im­prove the re­sources re­quired for good ser­vice de­liv­ery in terms of staff train­ing, equip­ment and other fa­cil­i­ties re­quired for air­craft ground han­dling. This has meant that most or­gan­i­sa­tions of­fer­ing ground han­dling ser­vices in Africa use old and some­times ob­so­lete equip­ment,” he says.

The air­port author­i­ties have found a way to mo­nop­o­lise the busi­ness around the pro­vi­sion of ground ser­vices and of­ten are not on par with the global “best prac­tices,” hence the level of ex­pected ser­vices at such lo­ca­tions is ac­tu­ally lower in qual­ity and safety pa­ram­e­ters as com­pared with global fig­ures, points out Mau­r­izio Ani­chini of ground han­dling con­sul­tancy Twiga Aero.

In cases where the in­dus­try is lib­er­alised, there are sev­eral small han­dling com­pa­nies at a sin­gle air­port and this re­sults into price un­der­cut­ting as all these providers com­pete for busi­ness.

“The re­sult is a low re­turn on in­vest­ment and an in­abil­ity to con­tin­u­ally al­lo­cate re­sources for fu­ture in­vest­ment on staff train­ing and equip­ment re­newal. The ground sup­port equip­ment (GSE) re­quired for air­craft han­dling is costly and all of it is im­ported from out­side the African con­ti­nent. It takes time to de­velop the main­te­nance ca­pa­bil­ity to keep these pieces of equip­ment in good con­di­tion for safe air­craft han­dling,” says Ogendo. “Most GSE man­u­fac­tur­ers also of­fer in­ad­e­quate tech­ni­cal sup­port to the buy­ers of GSE and this im­pacts the re­li­a­bil­ity, safety and life span of the equip­ment. When air­lines fly to coun­tries where the GHA is a mo­nop­oly, there is nor­mally no op­tions to choose from and the han­dling rates in such coun­tries are very pro­hib­i­tive, hence af­fect­ing the bot­tom line of air­lines. Air­lines hence have not only to put up with poor ser­vice but also with high han­dling costs in such des­ti­na­tions, which are by far the ma­jor­ity in Africa.”

Air­line Chal­lenges

In this con­text, the air­lines are of­ten ex­pe­ri­enc­ing is­sues and Twiga Aero’s Ani­chini pro­vides an in­sight­ful anec­dote. “A new B787 is taxi­ing to its park­ing po­si­tion on the in­au­gu­ral flight at an air­port in a coun­try in south­west­ern Africa. In spite of the elab­o­rate wa­ter can­non wel­come from the fire brigade, the wingtip of the in­com­ing air­craft strikes a flag pole. A flag pole you ask? What is a flag pole do­ing there to be­gin with?” he asks. “In many places, in­fra­struc­ture is not com­men­su­rate with the chang­ing times of to­day, let alone those of yes­ter­year, with very dif­fer­ent – read smaller – air­craft types. Gone are the days of alu­minium air­craft that me­chan­ics will patch up quickly and for a few thou­sand dol­lars. The hole in the fuse­lage of the B747 would have cost about $200,000 USD. For the B787, it meant a $2,000,000 cost and sev­eral weeks on the ground.

“In terms of de­lays, air­lines pay a high price for sub-stan­dard sys­tems such as bag­gage sys­tems, which slow things down as com­pa­nies seek to ‘go man­ual,’” he con­tin­ues. “Air­port re­design and in­fra­struc­ture build-up ap­pears to be old de­signs from more than 30 years ago be­ing re­cy­cled, rather than leap-frog­ging to the fu­ture of smart air­ports.”

“Safety is key for air­lines. In fact at Kenya Air­ways, we say ‘Safety is our Li­cense to Op­er­ate.’ When han­dling staff are not well trained, and han­dling equip­ment un­re­li­able due to poor main­te­nance or ob­so­les­cence, safety suf­fers. Air­craft ground han­dling is a del­i­cate ac­tiv­ity as the safety of air­craft, equip­ment and per­son­nel work­ing around the air­craft is crit­i­cal,” says Ogendo of Kenya Air­ways. “Air­craft also need to be safe at de­par­ture, void of any ground dam­age to en­sure the safe op­er­a­tion of the flight, safety of the pas­sen­gers and crew on board.

“Dam­age due to un­ser­vice­able GSE or in­ad­e­quately trained staff is a ma­jor chal­lenge faced by most air­lines op­er­at­ing in Africa,” he adds. “Flight de­lays is yet an­other fac­tor that af­fects air­lines. This is caused more by ground ser­vice equip­ment fail­ure, lack of or in­ad­e­quate equip­ment. In other cases, there is no com­pat­i­ble equip­ment to han­dle a par­tic­u­lar air­craft category or per­form a par­tic­u­lar han­dling task on the ground. In

It gets bet­ter in some parts of Africa, but re­quires sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in oth­ers. Some in­ter­na­tional ground han­dling or­gan­i­sa­tions have come in to im­prove the sit­u­a­tion even though other home-based ground han­dling agents (GHA) in a few coun­tries have de­vel­oped with proper struc­tures and re­sources for of­fer­ing re­li­able air­craft ground han­dling ser­vices.

- Tom Ogendo, head of pas­sen­ger ser­vices, Kenya Air­ways.

des­ti­na­tions where the GHA is a mo­nop­oly, all car­ri­ers sign up with the sin­gle GHA, and where ser­vices clash in such des­ti­na­tions, car­ri­ers en­counter de­lays due to in­ad­e­quate ca­pac­ity of the ground han­dler. Such de­lays can have re­ac­tionary ef­fects on a car­rier af­fect­ing the net­work in­tegrity and air­craft util­i­sa­tion.”

Air­lines are also lim­ited in the ex­pan­sion am­bi­tions in des­ti­na­tions where the han­dler has lim­ited ca­pac­ity. A car­rier may de­sire to in­crease ca­pac­ity in terms of ad­di­tional fre­quen­cies or big­ger air­craft, but some han­dling agents have no ca­pac­ity to han­dle such air­craft.

“Equip­ment for han­dling cargo freighters, for in­stance, re­main a chal­lenge in a num­ber of des­ti­na­tions and thus air­lines de­sir­ing to fly into such des­ti­na­tions can­not do so. Air­lines have to make up with longer turn­around times in des­ti­na­tions where han­dling ser­vices are lim­ited in ca­pac­ity. This is to give longer ground time to match the han­dling ca­pac­ity. This re­sults in low air­craft util­i­sa­tion and higher costs,” says Ogendo.

An­other is­sue in Africa is that of gov­ern­ment in­ter­fer­ence.

“A lot of African air­lines are ei­ther wholly or partly owned by their gov­ern­ments. Be­ing gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties, they are li­able to neg­a­tive gov­ern­ment in­ter­fer­ence in the form of poor de­ci­sions and the likes, re­sult­ing in the air­lines be­ing treated as per­sonal en­ti­ties,” says Bikoko. “Also plagu­ing the air­lines is cor­rup­tion com­ing as a re­sult of be­ing state en­ti­ties; po­si­tions are filled by per­son­nel based on who they know rather than qual­i­fi­ca­tions and ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Safety Ini­tia­tives

There are air­craft ground han­dling safety ini­tia­tives that the ser­vice providers are in­di­vid­u­ally putting in place across Africa. “Com­pa­nies in Africa are usu­ally fron­trun­ners. For ex­am­ple, Air Zim­babwe was the first com­pany to be ISAGO reg­is­tered. Who would have thought that?” points out Ani­chini of Twiga Aero, not­ing this is a demon­stra­tion of trans­for­ma­tional lead­er­ship in the way of think­ing about ground ser­vice pro­vi­sions.

Air­lines have taken it upon them­selves to of­fer ad­di­tional train­ing for the GHA's han­dling staff in some ar­eas.

“This is not the com­mon prac­tice in other parts of the world. ISAGO cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and Safety Man­age­ment Sys­tem (SMS) im­ple­men­ta­tion, which are IATA ini­tia­tives, are slowly im­prov­ing the safety land­scape of ground han­dling ser­vices in Africa. In some air­ports, ground han­dlers un­der the um­brella of the air­port or avi­a­tion author­i­ties have come to­gether to form air­port safety ac­tion groups that are aimed at im-

prov­ing safety of air­craft han­dling on the ground,” Kenya Air­ways’ Ogendo says. Ani­chini be­lieves that more must be done to bring Africa-based com­pa­nies at the fore­front of global air­craft ground han­dling safety ini­tia­tives.

“IATA work­ing groups usu­ally meet in Europe and North Amer­ica. African pro­fes­sion­als do not have an easy time ob­tain­ing visas for the coun­tries where meet­ings are held, hence their ap­par­ent ‘non-par­tic­i­pa­tion’ in stan­dard-set­ting groups like IGOM,” he says. “To­gether with Richard Hunt, for­merly at South African Air­ways, we man­aged to con­vince the IGOM group to meet in South Africa in Fe­bru­ary of 2017. With­out in­clud­ing Africa in the mix, as a con­ti­nent, African avi­a­tion lead­ers will not be­come the chairs and vice-chairs of stan­dard set­ting groups, main­tain­ing the reign­ing hand well placed in the hands of the non-African coun­ter­parts. This must stop and I en­cour­age African avi­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als to get in­volved and par­tic­i­pate. I in­vite African avi­a­tion lead­ers to demon­strate their trans­for­ma­tional lead­er­ship.”

The Role of In­ter­na­tional Play­ers

In­ter­na­tional air­craft ground han­dling com­pa­nies are in­vest­ing in Africa and this is mak­ing the in­dus­try de­velop.

Sys­tems, knowl­edge and man­age­ment com­pe­tence are their main con­tri­bu­tions, ac­cord­ing to Twiga Aero’s Ani­chini. “In­ter­na­tional ground han­dling com­pa­nies are de­vel­op­ing in Africa and in­creas­ing their pres­ence, though, at a slow pace. The com­pa­nies bring with them bet­ter re­sources in terms of GSE and se­nior-level ex­per­tise and bet­ter trained staff in ground han­dling mat­ters,” notes Ogendo of Kenya Air­ways. “The main chal­lenge with the in­ter­na­tional ground han­dling com­pa­nies is that they sel­dom in­vest in new equip­ment for the sta­tions they op­er­ate in Africa, but rather re­de­ploy used equip­ment from other sta­tions into Africa des­ti­na­tions. Their in­ter­na­tional net­work, though, ac­cords them bet­ter tech­ni­cal sup­port for their GSE in terms of spare parts req­ui­si­tion and tech­ni­cal ad­vice.

“One other chal­lenge with these in­ter­na­tional GHAs in Africa is their re­mu­ner­a­tion pol­icy,” con­tin­ues Ogendo. “All is not doom and gloom. We at Kenya Air­ways are de­ter­mined to be­come a power house in ground han­dling and be the premier GHA in the re­gion. We have worked hard to at­tain our cur­rent po­si­tion and have mapped out ar­eas of im­prove­ment as we seek to win in Africa.”

“In most coun­tries, the ground han­dling ser­vice com­pa­nies are state-owned and, in such cases, most of these are mo­nop­o­lies. Due to lack of com­pe­ti­tion, there is lit­tle in­vest­ment to im­prove the re­sources re­quired for good ser­vice de­liv­ery in terms of staff train­ing, equip­ment and other fa­cil­i­ties re­quired for air­craft ground han­dling. This has meant that most or­gan­i­sa­tions of­fer­ing ground han­dling ser­vices in Africa use old and some­times ob­so­lete equip­ment.”

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