Ground operations of the future must be driven by sustainable initiatives in tandem with efficient and safe operations.

Sustainability is a crucial element for the future of aviation ground operations. For us, sustainability goes beyond just reducing our impact on the natural environment. It also involves addressing social issues that affect people. We are committed to being equitable and fair to all, providing equal opportunities to our current and future staff.

In this overview, we present potential solutions, pathways, and strategies to reduce risk and prepare ground operations for the future.

When presenting potential solutions, it is essential to consider local and regional situations and regulations. This includes not only the requirements and unique expectations of communities and direct stakeholders but also necessary legal and compliance environment.

Fly Net Zero is a pledge made by airlines to achieve a net zero CO2 footprint by the year 2050. Ground operations play an important role in reducing aviation emissions. 

> More on Fly Net Zero

The measures below can help support the drive towards Fly Net Zero in ground operations.

Electric Ground Support Equipment (GSE)  

Transitioning away from traditional diesel and gasoline/petrol fuels to electrically powered GSE and biofuels is a potential solution to reduce emissions and improve air quality, thereby enhancing the working conditions for ground staff. IATA has commissioned a project aimed at assisting the ground handlers in making a knowledgeable and well-organized transition to cleaner GSE power.

A recent study focusing on Europe showed that, based on an average EU country’s electrical generation emission, electrically powered GSE produce 48% less CO2 emissions than GSE with internal combustion engines using traditional fossil fuels when operating under the same conditions. Extrapolating this on a global scale and using 2019 traffic levels as a base, the ground handling industry could have reduced its CO2 emissions by 1.8 million tonnes per year if the GSE were all electrically powered. Another advantage of electrically powered equipment is a drop in noise level of between 5.5 to 8 dB(a).

Adopting GSE powered by cleaner energy will contribute positively towards reduced carbon emissions and noise emissions on the ramp, thereby improving working conditions.

Industry action item for sustainable GSE

  • Review infrastructure, electrical and fuel supply capabilities to assess preparedness to integrate electric / alternatively fuelled GSE on the ramp
  • Review and understand carbon intensity of supplied electricity
  • Review energy tax structures to encourage a shift to non-fossil powered GSE

Industry standards

  • IATA Airport Handling Manual (AHM) 1000 + 907

Industry action item for alternative fuels

  • Consider the use of alternative fuels for GSE as an alternative to electricity in cases where switching directly to electrically powered GSE is not currently feasible
  • Delve deeper into the impact of alternative fuels in ground operations in the coming years

Industry standards

  • Currently, fuels such as a paraffinic oil called Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil, specifically (HVO)100 and Hydrogen are in use and / or being piloted for GSE use
  • There are currently no global industry standards for sustainable fuels for ground operations

Alternative fuels

Fossil fuel is still the predominant energy source for commercial flight. As part of the Fly Net Zero by 2050 initiative, fuels are being developed that are produced from sustainable sources instead of fossil fuels. A key element of decarbonizing the industry is the use of alternative fuels, such as fuels with lower carbon intensity. These fuels, or derivatives of them, are also viable for use in GSE.

While electrically powered GSE is one way to a better ramp conditions, there are many places where the electricity supply and / or generating capacity is not sufficient or reliable enough to accommodate a wholesale switch from internal combustion engines to an all electrically powered GSE fleet. For this reason, alternative fuels which reduce CO2 footprint over their life cycle are being explored.

GSE pooling

GSE pooling is an initiative that drives the optimization of the GSE fleet at an airport level.  In essence there is a common pool of GSE available for use by all Ground Handling Service Providers (GHSPs) that operate at that airport.

GSE pooling is particularly useful in reducing airside vehicle congestion by optimizing the GSE fleet on an airport-wide basis rather than on a per GHSP basis.  This can eliminate the multiplication of the GSE peak time requirements and redundancies typically built in to each GHSPs fleet size calculations.  It also facilitates the availability of specific specialized vehicles that are necessary but not frequently used, thereby avoiding duplication of expensive and under-utilized GSE.  

The economies of scale and standardization of the GSE fleet also simplifies fleet maintenance, reduces spare parts inventory, and simplifies driver and maintenance training. Then there are the potential savings from buying or leasing a larger fleet from one provider instead of smaller, varied fleets from several providers.  

Pooling GSE also makes it easier for an airport to comprehensively drive a switch to more sustainable energy sources. 

If certain GSE are pooled this could also be a way of introducing autonomous GSE - where a single, consistent, airport-wide operating and management system might prove to be a priority benefit.

Industry action item for sustainable GSE

  • Review infrastructure, electrical and fuel supply capabilities to assess preparedness to integrate electric / alternatively fuelled GSE on the ramp
  • Review and understand carbon intensity of supplied electricity
  • Review energy tax structures to encourage a shift to non-fossil powered GSE

Industry standards

  • IATA Airport Handling Manual (AHM) 1000 + 906

Industry action item for sustainable taxiing

  • Sustainable taxiing is being piloted at several airports. Airlines should encourage further adoption of this procedure at more airports
  • Review feasibility of sustainable taxi-in and taxi-out operations including engine warm-up time, infrastructure availability and airport layout in collaboration with airports and air traffic control

Industry standards

  • There are currently no global industry standards for sustainable taxiing, IATA plans to gain more insight into how this can be integrated as a part of standard ground operations

Sustainable taxiing

Current taxiing operations almost always utilize aircraft engines, which burn fuel very inefficiently under these conditions as well as creating substantial noise. Sustainable taxiing resolves these challenges by using specially configured on-board or on-ground solutions.

While the aircraft is manoeuvred by the on-board or on-ground solutions, the aircraft engines are not running. The primary result is a reduction in fuel usage, carbon emissions, engine run times and airport noise levels.

Sustainable taxiing also addresses the safety challenges posed by running aircraft engines while the aircraft is near or on stand. By simply not having aircraft engines running in the stand environment, the risks to staff and of ingesting Foreign Object Debris (FOD) is significantly reduced.

Environmental Management Systems

The services provided by ground handlers have significant environmental impacts related to greenhouse gas emissions, noise pollution, waste generation and water consumption. It is vital for Ground Handlers to develop and implement a robust environmental management system (EMS) that can help achieve their sustainability objectives, track and monitor environmental KPIs and keep tabs on environmental issues, impacts, stakeholders' expectations and also environmental compliance obligations.

An EMS is a set of policies, procedures and practices that enable an organization to identify, assess and manage its environmental aspects and impacts. It also provides a framework for setting environmental goals and targets, implementing action plans, monitoring performance and reviewing progress. By having an EMS, Ground Handlers can benefit from:

  • Improved environmental performance: An EMS can help Ground Handlers reduce their environmental footprint, optimize their resource use and minimize their waste and emissions. This can also lead to cost savings and enhanced operational efficiency
  • Enhanced reputation and stakeholder relations: An EMS can help Ground Handlers demonstrate their commitment to environmental responsibility and sustainability, which can boost their image and credibility among customers, regulators, investors and the public. It can also help them meet the expectations and requirements of their stakeholders, such as airlines, airports, authorities and communities
  • Reduced risks and liabilities: An EMS can help Ground Handlers comply with relevant environmental laws and regulations, avoid fines and penalties, prevent accidents and incidents and manage potential environmental emergencies. It can also help them identify and mitigate environmental risks and opportunities affecting their business continuity and competitiveness

  A certified EMS provides several advantages over a non-certified one, such as:

  • Helps adopt a systematic and effective way of addressing sustainability challenges based on established best practices
  • Demonstrates dedication to improving sustainability to customers and partners through an independent and rigorous audit and certification process

 

Industry action item for environmental management systems

  • Verify, establish or enhance your GHSPs Environmental Management
  • Get EMS assessed by aviation specific certification

Industry standard

Industry action item for waste management

  • Consume only what is needed – as efficiently and effectively as possible
  • Clean up and recycle the residue
  • Compliance with waste disposal and recycling laws is the minimum requirement, be proactive and implement the best practices possible even when the laws are lacking

Industry standards

  • Many countries have a multitude of waste and recycling standards and laws

Waste management

Sustainable operations go beyond addressing emissions reductions, and should also focus on waster management.  

Ground operations is a key component of the aviation industry, thereby also addressing sustainability challenges head on. As such we promote and encourage responsible waste management principles. This covers topics such as spill prevention, waste segregation and recycling of materials such as GSE servicing residues and recycling of electric vehicle batteries.

It’s no exaggeration that ground ops is a labour-intensive sector. The way aircraft are handled is very much the same as it was back when labour was plentiful and working in aviation carried a measure of exclusivity and status. What has changed significantly is the job market and people’s expectations of their work. Ground handlers are now competing with entry-level jobs offering a comfortable working environment. It is imperative then that ground ops drive changes that make it an industry where people can build themselves a rewarding career with a development path that outshines anything similar-level jobs can offer.

Safety first

Safety of our employees, human factors impact on people’s jobs, and training standardization must be at the core of our activities.  

Safety events can have a serious impact on our people, causing injuries and even deaths. Injuries and fatalities must be avoided by looking at training, human factors, operational processes, and procedures as well as improved ergonomics e.g. in GSE, other equipment and in the general work environment, amongst others. Ensuring that ground operation activities are performed safely is a priority for all stakeholders on the ground and will keep people attracted to the job many opportunities in ground operations.

Industry action item for safety first

  • Implementation of an industry standard for harmonized training as per AHM chapter 11
  • Awareness of human factors (fatigue, pressure, distraction, complacency, stress, and many others) in work conditions, the mental/emotional/physical state of our staff and the adoption of suitable operational processes, training and awareness campaigns must be in place to implement a safe environment for all
  • Ongoing enhancements in occupational health and safety conditions and guidelines is imperative. This includes identification of safety events’ root causes and their contributing factors, defining corrective and preventive measures, enhancing GSE and other equipment’s ergonomics and driving mindfulness and responsiveness

Industry standards

  • IATA Airport Handling Manual (AHM) Chapter 6, 9, 11
  • IATA Ground Operations Manual (IGOM)

Industry action item for employee attraction & retention

  • Awareness campaigns aimed at highlighting what ground operations jobs entail and what it means to work at an airport/on the ramp
  • Repackaging job benefits to be competitive with other industries and their value proposition for new employees
  • Illustration of career path opportunities – demonstrate how a career progression could work within ground services
  • Push for automation to attract the next generation and a diverse talent portfolio, including making adequate investments in technology, software solutions and infrastructure
  • Maximizing staff resources, staff cross-utilization and outsourcing
  • Focusing on diversity, inclusion, and equity
  • Nurturing the new workforce by implementing effective retention strategies, opportunities for growth and staff upskilling
  • Hold / participate in job fairs and open forums
  • Investment into communities and training subsidy programs  

Industry standards

  • IATA Airport Handling Manual (AHM
  • Industry research studies and analysis

Employee attraction & retention

Organizations must take a multifaceted approach to attract and retain talents.

The ground handling sector is facing severe skills shortages as well as challenges in retaining and recruiting staff. Many skilled employees have left the industry and are not coming back. The aviation sector is competing with other industries to attract skilled staff. Additionally, employee’s priorities have changed and topics such as work flexibility, complete compensation packages, meaningful work, support for health and wellbeing are among the factors that now drive a jobs’ attractiveness. Therefore, aviation organizations must review their job and retention strategies holistically.

Training reforms and training passport

Training and nurturing the next generation of skilled aviation professionals through innovation, use of new technologies and competency-based training methods must begin now.

The aviation sector relies heavily on skilled and trained professionals to manage the ground handling activities. With the ongoing traffic growth and hiring outside aviation, having access to skilled staff is essential for sustainable growth. Therefore, new training methods will need to be deployed, heavily relying on performance data, competency-based learning and assessments, and online training formats.

Industry action item for training reforms and training passport

  • In training delivery, shifting the focus to digital methods as opposed to conventional classroom training. Digital learning options shall include online training courses, virtual classroom training, eLearning modules, virtual reality technologies to simulate 3D training-reality environment and many more
  • Implementing a competency-based learning environment, creating profiles of successful performers with clear, measurable abilities and defined outcomes, and assisting employees within the organization to acquire knowledge and skills to deliver the desired outcomes
  • Collecting data regarding operational performance and using them wisely for risk-based training delivery that takes into consideration multiple aspects such as job roles, geography, historic performance, area of work
  • Increasing efficiency of staff utilization, by adopting a training passport concept that allows for a mutual recognition of skills across ground handlers, airlines and/or airports when an employee’s contract moves to another organization. This practise shall support workforce mobility, leverage the implementation of the industry training standards and its global adoption/recognition

Industry standards

  • IATA Airport Handling Manual (AHM) Chapter 11

Industry action item for people sustainability

  • Drive changes to improve the lives of their employees, focusing on well-being, flexibility, life-work balance, driving diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Get involved in community programs and define its purpose and impact on the planet and society
  • Drive transparency and trust, leading by example, staff engagement and empowerment and corporate responsibility

Industry standards

  • Industry research studies and analysis

People sustainability

People and the work environment are central to any organization and must be part of its long-term strategies.

Research shows that investments into social sustainability have a positive influence on organizational profitability and environmental sustainability. It drives higher staff satisfaction and productivity, employee retention, and overall life-work balance and happiness.

Economical sustainability is just as important as Planet and People, especially in times of financial uncertainty. For ground ops, economic sustainability improves with reduced turnaround costs, reduced operational delays and reduced ground damage.

AI integrated turnaround

Looking at the various aspects of ground operations, the turnaround is undoubtedly the most frenetic, complex, and dynamic activity.  

AI-powered technology has made it possible for what was previously communicated sequentially through the turnaround coordinator via radio or telephone, to now be communicated simultaneously to all parties concerned. 

AI can already recognize objects and vehicles and can capture timing and delivery of each service or task with great precision. If we widen the lens to look outside the confines of the aircraft stand, it is immediately apparent that some other important series of events can also be integrated from other systems or from a direct input to further improve the decision-making process.

Overall, it is expected that the adoption of a system that implements the industry timestamp turnaround standard (XTST), will help to reduce ground handling delays by up to 5% globally.

Industry action item for AI integrated turnaround

  • Investigate infrastructure available at the aircraft stand
  • Identify potential solution providers to implement AI integrated turnaround
  • Implement XTST to receive structured aircraft turnaround performance input

Industry standards

  • IATA Airport Handling Manual (AHM) 772

Industry action item for asset tracking and optimal resource allocation

  • Investigate telematics options for GSE fleet
  • Implement resource monitoring system for operations

Industry standards

There are currently no global industry standards for telemetry for ground operations but IATA plans to gain more insight into how this can be integrated as a part of standard ground operations

Asset tracking and optimal resource allocation

Today’s ever more connected world creates more possibilities to integrate and communicate diverse aspects of everyday work with the aim of improving efficiency and be proactive. Airside cameras can monitor everything happening on the ramp. Every piece of powered equipment typically has some kind of telemetry monitoring what it is doing and how well it is running. Personnel virtually all carry some kind of electronic device for performing their tasks and even unpowered items can be scanned and checked as they pass checkpoints.

The challenge is tying all this very diverse information together to get a cohesive and accurate picture of all that is going on in the airport and then to use it to its best advantage to achieve better levels of efficiency and performance. This can result in higher efficiency gains or cost effectiveness such as lower fuel consumption by monitoring utilization trends.

Dynamic aircraft data exchange

IATA has published digital standards that improve lead-in times for the configuration and carrier’s approvals of departure control systems (DCS). This also facilitates aircraft data distribution to end-users and enables real-time updates of other applications such as the Electronic Flight Bag (EFB).

Airline requirements to better optimize their aircraft operations for lower fuel consumption, reduced emissions and improved passenger and cargo load factors, have encouraged aircraft manufacturers and DCS providers to refine the accuracy of weight and balance data and DCS’ performance.

At the same time, inputting, managing, updating, and configuring aircraft fleet data is a labour intensive, skill intensive, and time-consuming process open to all the errors inherent in manual data processing which, in the case of aircraft, can have severe consequences regarding flight safety.

These standards help reduce potential human errors and increases efficiency.

Industry action item for dynamic aircraft data exchange

  • Assess digital standards for adoption
  • Verify preparedness for implementation
  • Plan network-wide implementation
  • Implement digital standards in operations

Industry standards

  • IATA Airport Handling Manual (AHM) 565

Industry action item for digital load reconciliation

  • Assess existing digital solutions for load reconciliation
  • Verify preparedness for implementation
  • Plan and implement the solutions

Industry standards

  • There are currently no global industry standards for digital load reconciliation but IATA plans to gain more insight into how this can be integrated as a part of standard ground operations

Digital load reconciliation

Modernizing the way communication flows between the load planning and load control function(s) by adopting digital smart solutions is one of the key steps to improve the loading process.

Poor or inadequate communication exchange during aircraft loading operations may lead to severe safety consequences. Modern solutions enabling digital load conciliation have helped members to reduce 80% of loading errors and an overall reduction of operational delays in aircraft loading.

Autonomous vehicles

GHSPs seek to relieve chronic skilled staff shortages by automating the more mundane and time-consuming tasks such as driving. Autonomous vehicles address these challenges by improving efficiency of a pre-defined task while relieving resources for other important tasks.

IATA is leading the industry in this field by publishing guidelines specifically targeting autonomous GSE on the airport. The industry, therefore, now has a globally acceptable set of guidelines in place, setting some minimum capabilities and addressing the unique challenges of the ramp operating environment.

Industry action item for autonomous vehicles

  • Review available guidance materials
  • Verify preparedness for implementation (risk assessment, infrastructure, operating process, use cases…)
  • Perform operational trials
  • Prepare implementation plan

Industry standards

  • IATA Airport Handling Manual (AHM) 908

Industry action item for robotics

  • Review available robotics solutions
  • Perform risk assessment
  • Identify processes to benefit the most from robotics
  • Prepare implementation plan

Industry standards

  • There are currently no global industry standards for robotics but IATA plans to gain more insight into how this can be integrated as a part of standard ground operations

Robotics

Ground operations is a wide-open opportunity for the use of robotics. Need to load bags for bulk-loading? Robotics! Need to prepare ULDs for containerized loading? Robotics! In short, robotics can be an answer to many challenges present on the ramp today.

Robotics can improve quality of life for personnel and their organizations on the ramp. Proper implementation of robotics can streamline tasks. Having certain labour intensive tasks being performed by robotics would also provide better working conditions to employees, resulting in potential higher employee retention.  

Active damage prevention systems

“Enhanced GSE” concept is already well established in the industry. In 2022, IATA published the Ground Damage report. This report details the savings and benefits of deploying enhanced GSE on the ramp as well as ranking the GSE in order of which it is most likely to cause ground damage.

While the benefits of utilizing enhanced GSE are clear, implementation is likely to be slow because GSE is very durable and also expensive. To encourage implementation of enhanced GSE, developing a program to incentivize the implementation process by recognizing and promoting those companies that have brought enhanced GSE into their fleets would be very useful. 

Industry action item for active damage prevention systems

  • Assess GSE fleet against the IATA Ground Damage Report forecast model to calculate cost avoidance
  • Participate in GSE Excellence Program to verify the risk reduction of GSE fleet
  • Plan the integration of enhanced GSE into the GSE fleet

Industry standards

  • IATA Airport Handling Manual (AHM) 917