In her keynote speech at the 34th IATA Ground Handling Conference, Monika Mejstrikova, IATA’s Director of Ground Operations, emphasized the importance of ground handling to the industry recovery.

Despite a dip earlier this year caused by the Omicron wave and concerns over the Russia-Ukraine conflict, international connectivity across the Americas, Europe, and the North Atlantic reached at least 80% of pre-pandemic levels by May 2022.

Unfortunately, Asia continues to lag behind, with international air connectivity between countries within Asia Pacific at only 22% of its 2019 level. The opening up of China will be vital for a speedier return to growth.

“We need some bold decisions from States removing all the remaining travel restrictions and driving the growth of our industry to meet the underlying demand for travel,” said Mejstrikova. “The summer season is here and despite high oil prices and increased inflation, our passengers want to travel so we can’t disappoint them.”

Though successful and sustainable ground operations are crucial to the industry recovery, shortages in skilled and experienced staff are slowing down the industry rebound. Thousands of ground handling staff left aviation during the pandemic, and they are not coming back.

“We need to adopt a stronger talent acquisition strategy, streamline the onboarding processes, and develop more compelling retention policies,” Mejstrikova noted. “We must drive an awareness campaign to highlight the attractiveness and importance of ground operations, and we must share the success stories that we have all experienced.

“Career path mapping is another way to go, to demonstrate how easy and fast it can be to grow a talent in our industry,” she continued. “We have to work with authorities to reduce the time it takes to obtain a security clearance and an employee background check and to ensure mutual recognition between different authorities.”

In such an environment, global harmonization is vital and the IATA Ground Operations Manual and the IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations are gaining momentum.

Following an ISAGO revamp in March 2022, 28 airlines have joined. “It indicates we addressed the needs of our members, and we are on the right path with the changes,” said Mejstrikova. “ISAGO audit repository offers 500 different audit results completed by members of Charter of Professional Auditors.”

These audit reports are complementing the airlines’ oversight programs of outsourced ground operations, adding another layer to their risk mitigation strategies, reducing risk in ground operations, driving cost reduction, and enabling airlines to utilize their staff more efficiently rather than driving audit fatigue.

The Airport Handling Manual has also been developed, adding new requirements related to competency-based qualification processes, and offering an alternative to rigid recurrent training requirements. Risk-based training and a training passport concept that allows for mutual recognition of skills and training across ground handlers, airlines, and airports is being worked on.

“Digitalization, green and automated ramp operations are other tools that will help us to address the staff shortage and will create diverse job opportunities and career paths to attract new generation of talents,” said Mejstrikova.

A 2019 IATA survey revealed that over $18 billion could be saved over the next 10 years through aircraft turnaround efficiency, enhanced equipment utilization, and reduction of operational delays. Standards for the safe operation and testing of autonomous vehicles on the ramp have been finalized and are ready to be published this year.

“Having one industry standard for operations, training and audit, addressing staff retention and attraction, and driving digitalization and ramp automation and green operations are just some of the highlights that are moving the ground handling industry forward,” Mejstrikova concluded.


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