Mark Brierley: What impact do you think deregulation is having on ground handling? Do you think safety could be affected if left unchecked?

Dimitrios Sanos: For several years, airlines have been focusing on their core activities – flying passengers and freight – and outsourcing other activities to third parties. Ground handling services are being successfully outsourced, creating a new business sector of independent handlers.

Deregulation in the sense of access to the handling market has showed positive results in most cases. Just as in any other healthy market, the buyer should have a choice of service providers; this is beneficial for all stakeholders. When the cost of flying is reduced for the airlines, then passengers and cargo shippers enjoy good services at affordable prices.

In terms of safety, deregulation does not mean that it is compromised in any way. Safety is always the number one priority for everyone involved in air transport. Records show that, overall, aviation is the safest mode of transport. There is one accident for every 5.3 million flights on Western-built jet aircraft, and this is due to the excellent work of airlines and all partners in the air transport sector, including airports and independent ground handlers. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the IATA Ground Handling Council (IGHC) members make every effort to keep safety standards very high. Chief among our activities is the IATA safety audit for ground operations (ISAGO).

"There is one accident for every 5.3 million flights on Western-built jet aircraft, and this is due to the excellent work of airlines and all partners in the air transport sector."

MB: What role does IATA play in promoting best practice in safe ground operations?

DS: IATA supports the industry by setting globally applicable standards and supporting initiatives for raising safety levels. It is a common effort between airlines, governments, regulators and ground handlers. ISAGO covers a wide scope of activities as diverse as passenger and baggage handling, load control and cargo handling. It has been built upon a ‘backbone’ of audit standards applicable to all ground handling companies worldwide, coupled with a uniform set of standards relevant for the specific activities of any ground handler. Similarly, IATA training programmes are designed to reflect these widely applicable standards, sharing best practices at a global level.

MB: What part do IATA’s training courses play in this process?

DS: Through operations and management training, we help our participants to meet the industry priorities. The fundamental goal of air transport – the safe and prompt transportation of people and goods from point A to point B – is a result of a team effort comprising members working in an office, in the terminal, above or below the wing. They are all experts who gain their skills through training and years of experience.

ITDI (IATA’s Training & Development Institute) firmly believes that well-trained, knowledgeable and talented people are the cornerstone of our industry. And we don’t just mean airline people. In order to create value and innovation for a safe, secure and profitable industry, we need to support all its sectors, including airports and ground service providers.

MB: How successful has IATA’s ground operations training been in terms of uptake?

DS: Every year, we train more than 55,000 people in a classroom or self-study environment, offering 300 courses in more than 140 countries. In the ground-operations-related classes offered in our six main centres alone, we have trained more than 2,500 professionals in the past four years. IATA offers flexible training programmes and distance learning that motivate companies and individuals to meet their training needs and fill skills gaps, thus maximising the return on training investment.

All of the programmes address current issues and reflect industry needs in areas such as:

  • air navigation services and CAA
  • cargo and dangerous goods regulations (DGR)
  • environment and fuel
  • airline management
  • airport planning and management
  • airport and ground operations
  • safety
  • aviation security
  • travel and tourism
  • quality and audit
  • fares and revenue accounting
  • organisation and human performance.

MB: How are these training courses kept up-to-date as technology and best practice evolve?

DS: We try to blend proper training standards with the vast experience of our instructors, most of whom are active aviation professionals and recognised veterans. Every year, we make considerable investments updating our existing courses and developing new ones; a total of 45 new courses will be introduced in 2013.

Despite the diplomas offered by IATA, is there any legal imperative for ground operations staff to be formally trained in this way?
Ground operations training is not regulated in the same way as cockpit crew or ATC courses. However, individuals and companies can be found liable for any damage, incident or accident if it is proven that staff were poorly trained. But aviation is a big global ‘family’ and there is no room for ‘blame games’ in a family – the relationships must be based on trust and ethics, and not on pressure of legal action.

Despite the lack of a formal requirement, there is no doubt that training is hugely important and valuable. The aviation industry supports 57 million jobs and predictions show tremendous growth potential in future years. Training can play an important role by supporting young people to make a start, and give them a vision for their future as an aviation professional as well as improve their career progression opportunities.

"Every year, IATA trains more than 55,000 people in a classroom or self-study environment, offering 300 courses in more than 140 countries."

We organise our training in a way that shows newcomers they can learn the basics, then gain on-the-job experience and further training at a supervisory level, and later enhance their knowledge at a management level. Proven and transferable skills together with standardised training will help the industry to keep employees motivated and cover future needs.

MB: Is this a challenge to the successful promotion of safe ground operations globally? Do you see this being overcome in the future?

DS: It will be always a challenge. Nobody can relax in terms of safety. The ground operations industry is on a very good track, but we have to be proactive and work as a team.

It will be extremely interesting to follow the discussions between the ground operations stakeholders – from airlines, ground handlers, manufacturers and suppliers to airport representatives – at the 26th IGHC Ground Handling Conference, which takes place in Vancouver in May 2013. The main message of this year’s conference is ‘Don’t risk it… manage it!’

Collaboration, commitment, airside safety and efficiency are on the agenda. This year’s international event will focus on the implementation of risk management tools to reduce staff injuries and aircraft damages, and unearth the right balance between costs and service quality.