Standardization is vital if the aviation industry is to find the efficiencies necessary to handle growing demand for air travel.

Working together took centre stage during IATA's 31st annual Ground Handling Conference (IGHC), with standardization and partnerships between airlines, airports and ground handlers proving to be a key topic of discussion.

A panel of specialists addressing the challenges of airport management at the IGHC in April agreed that the two concepts are entwined, and one cannot properly exist without the other.

“Without standardization, resources have to be increased and that adds cost for everybody,” said Gordon Anyimu, Acting Director, Ground Services, Kenya Airways.

Andy Lord, EVP, Europe, Middle East, Africa and India, Menzies Aviation, warned, however, that though standardization is the way forward, there isn’t yet the collaboration necessary to achieve that aim. Airlines have different ways of working, with each believing their way is best.

We are all trying to run a business and make a commercial return. There has to be recognition of that

An additional problem, highlighted by Mohammed Aziz, Advisor to Chairman, MEA, is that each party—airline, airport, and ground handler—has a separate agreement with the other two parties. Service level agreements (SLA), and the procedures, standards, and targets associated with them, are often opaque. Without transparency, finding common ground is difficult.

Lord also asked for the value of the service provided to be acknowledged by airlines. “We are all trying to run a business and make a commercial return,” he added. “There has to be recognition of that.”

Only by making money can a ground handler invest to gain the efficiencies that airlines crave. As Liam Bolger, Head of Airside, London Luton Airport Operations succinctly put it: “You can’t drink champagne for beer money.”

But there were many reasons to be hopeful for the future. Though airlines often have their own way at their hub, it is different at outstations. And because airlines have more outstations than hubs, standardization becomes a critical component.

Also, common objectives and common problems often provide impetus for change. At London Luton, for example, on-time performance was suffering, affecting the reputation of all parties. Collaboration by all relevant parties to solve this problem has proved beneficial.

It is widely acknowledged that passengers have common desires, such as an on-time departure and for baggage to turn up quickly and safely. That makes standardization more likely than not.

“It’s about learning as a community,” said Lord. “Too much time is spent on tactical decisions within SLAs rather than talking about strategic direction. A lot more thought should be put into making partnerships meaningful.”