Hosted at the new venue of the Hilton in Downtown Miami, the 3rd Americas Ground Handling International Conference welcomed 264 delegates this June – an impressive 23% surge in attendance and a new record for the regional summit.
As the conference grows in size, so too does the programme. The three-day event comprised a packed schedule of sessions alongside the brand new ‘big debate’, which led the charge on day one of the conference. As the event got underway, delegates flocked into the room to hear the panel debate the challenges and trends of the region, from the impact of Brazil’s ongoing economic recession to the issue of staff retention in North America, articulated by Menzies’ John Redmond.
Alongside Redmond, panellists included Javier Martinez of ACI, Gustavo Di Cio from Abiax Air Aviation and American Airlines’ Olga Svirskaia, who pondered some of the industry’s most pressing questions, put forward by delegates themselves. "Would you pay more for a handler with ISAGO certification?" "How do we work together to address consolidation and the way this restricts competition at airports?" asked delegates. By far the most controversial was the question of increasing liability limits by airlines. "Handlers are asked to accept more and more of the risk - is this fair?" A question which stimulated lively debate and divided the panel – and the room – in their opinions.
Throughout the event, the neighbouring exhibition room was a networking hub, filled with stands from GSE and IT providers, together with meeting rooms that played host to a mammoth 800 of GHI’s renowned One-to-One meetings – a new record for the Americas conference.
Day One also saw two interactive workshops by IT company Damarel Systems and XOPS. Damarel’s solution FiNDnet, presented by Paul Bruton, offered to solve revenue leakage and enhance profitability through the electronic capture of data and automated billing. With billing ready in a matter of hours, Damarel’s system protects users against the time-consuming, labour-intensive weaknesses of paper.
Jean-Francois Bouilhaguet presented on XOPS’ GSE fleet tracking solution, which uses RFID technology. “You can follow GSE in real time, being alerted to problems and operational status,” he explained, adding the benefits the solution offers to safety and environmental objectives, by the monitoring of metrics like speeding and carbon emissions.
MIA remains the leading airport in the US for international freight and plays host to 96% of Miami’s visitors arriving by air, explained Emilio Gonzalez, Director of Miami-Dade Aviation. Touching on the success of his co-founded Pharma.Aero initiative, Gonzalez went on to mention MIA’s investment in e-commerce and pharma through its Cargo Optimisation Redevelopment and Expansion programme, adding, “pharma is probably the best cargo product an airport can move. It’s low weight and high margin.”
Ashwin Norohna of KPMG gave an encouraging M & A overview, revealing that net profit per passenger in the US has reached US$18 of late. Warning of the fourth Industrial Revolution, he explained that the “digital traveller and digital employee” will have OCD: opinion, choice and a device. “It’s going to change the way we do business,” he asserted.
Eric Toler and Brian McGoldrick of ICF International gave a report on market liberalisation in Latin America, predicting that this year will see slight decline in airline profitability; however, Brazil will see some reprieve from its economic recession. The low cost carrier is expected to grow, they said, with Argentina presenting itself as a prime market for new entrants. LatAm’s fleets are expected to grow exponentially in the coming years, with 664 aircraft on order to be added to the existing 1,019, reinforcing the optimistic feeling in the region.
A Special Interest Stream assessed the realities of implementing electric GSE at the airport, with panellists were in agreement as to the advantages. “With fewer components and no oil change necessary, electric units are not only easier to make but cheaper to maintain,” asserted Lektro CEO, Eric Paulson.
As the model develops, previously lengthy battery-charging times have dwindled from 8 – 10 hours to just 1.5 hours, delegates heard, with the groups’ ten-year forecast predicting that airports themselves will soon be mandating electrification. As to the market for used electric vehicles, Evans remarked that there is a limited supply at present but that this will continue to grow.
Following a lively delegate dinner at the waterfront venue, Briza on the Bay, Day Three saw Garrett Malone, CEO of Sky Airline (Chile), take to the stage on the topic of LCCs. Malone cited three essential ingredients: simple, documented processes, training and the required headcount - “no more, no less,” he added, explaining that productivity levels have been seen to decrease with an excess of staff. Debunking the myth that outsourcing is always the cheapest option, he explained that, in Chile, in-house operations are more economical owing to the steep 19% VAT levied on outsourced services.
Though the LCC market is growing the region, there is still a long way to go, Malone intimated, concluding: “LCC flights per capita are nowhere near what they are in Europe.”
Marva Richards, Operations Manager of Airport Services (Antigua) educated the room on the challenges presented by the isolated operating environment of an island. Everything from sourcing funds, expensive GSE and its maintenance to manpower management can be a struggle. “Cross-utilisation and training is key to success,” Richards explained. “We make sure our staff are trained to do everything.”
Christopher San Giovanni, Director of Ground Safety for JetBlue, asked the questions that every organisation should be able to answer when it comes to ground damage: “Who ‘owns’ the risk? Is reporting celebrated or punished? Is data accessible and turned into useful information?” Safety should be managed like another other aspect of the business, he stressed, adding that, since recording all incidents rather than only major ones, Jet Blue has seen a damage reduction rate of 35% from 2014 to 2016.
As economies stabilise, routes expand and fleets grow, Latin America appears to be gearing up for growth and handlers are becoming more eager to invest in this promising region. There is much hope that by the 4th Americas Conference, the region will be prospering – join us from June 26-28, 2018, at the Hilton Downtown Miami once more.
A fuller report on this year’s event will be published in Ground Handling International August 2017.
“I just wanted to say again thank you for inviting me to the GHI Americas Conference. It was easily the best run conference I have been a part of, so please pass on my appreciation to your staff, they were fantastic.” Christopher San Giovanni, JetBlue Airways
“Thanks for organising such a good conference. It was a learning experience. The material presented was great and the one-to-one meetings arranged were perfect. Thanks again for all your hard work. A big thank you to all who made this a success.” Hosi Kapadia, Hallmark Aviation