Conference Review

2nd Americas GHI Conference Miami, September 27-29

The second instalment of Ground Handling International’s regional Americas conference saw over 200 delegates gather in downtown Miami.

The three-day event comprised a packed schedule of conference sessions by industry experts, covering a variety of pertinent topics, alongside a dynamic table-top exhibition and over 600 of GHI’s famed One-to-One meetings.

IT workshops

Day one of the event opened with the exhibition, followed by a half day of workshops. RSMART led proceedings with a presentation on the merits of subscribing versus investing in IT solutions, with Rajan Varadha detailing RSMART’s Plug & Play solution. A one-stop shop for ERP, analytics and all business processes, RSMART’s cloud-based, mobile application is available on a pay-per-usage subscription model whilst still providing all the unique requirements of the user. SITA Workbridge followed with a session on the benefits of a data interchange control centre in improving staff management and helping to meet razor thin margins, while Travelport offered the solution to a streamlined check-in that sees the passenger take over the handling processes with the iPort DCS.
Inform educated delegates on improving turnaround efficiency and XOPS finished the day with a focus on the potential of real-time management on the ramp, enlightening listeners about the 30% savings they could stand to make if the technology is utilised to its fullest extent.

Economic concerns

The presentations got underway on day two with Robin Cartwright’s update on the financial environment in the Americas of late. Confirming that the region is surely prospering, Cartwright told listeners that the US alone expects to contribute 20% of global passenger traffic by 2034, with the US, Canada and Latin America jointly expected to experience a two-fold increase in their passenger yield over the next 20 years.
Continuing with the passenger traffic thread, James Wiltshire, Senior Economist for IATA, reported on increasing demand as a positive growth feature that is expected to continue. Falling prices in the airline industry are responsible for these stimulated passenger statistics; however, the good news ended there, as he went on to cite dismal cargo yields as a result of overcapacity and a brewing economic storm. Wiltshire referred to oil prices, falling trade growth and volatile exchange rates as contributors in the US, and precarious post-tax profit margins of less than 1% in Latin America, as domestic Brazil continues to be the “sore thumb” that drags down results. All markets are demonstrating a lack of stimulus for strong, sustained growth, he reported, but looking further ahead, there is more cause for optimism, with a modest 2-2.5% growth rate predicted for the next five years in IATA’s long term growth forecast.

Growth potential

Gustavo Di Cio of Abiax Air continued in a positive vein, providing a gleaming overview of business opportunities in the Latin American region. Currently accounting for only 5% of passengers despite housing 9% of the world’s population, Di Cio explained that demand growth is expected to reach 7bn passengers by the year 2036. In the light of abundant opportunity, many airports in Latin America are undergoing expansion, aircraft fleets are growing and airlines are investing in local carriers, such as that of Qatar and Delta in Latam and Aeromexico, respectively. Delegates heard from Len Sloper of Asper: the intermediary with whom airports liaise on matters such as these. Sloper explained that his role is “to make the playing field level”, so the airports cannot pick winners or losers and enforce rules on handlers. The function of an equitable authority and information source such as this was unanimously deemed beneficial.

Safe and sound

Ron Failing of Virgin America drove home the importance of staff training when it comes to preventing ground damage, detailing the Block and Attack approach, whereby effective leadership and official validation are combined to ensure operations are carried out by the book. Failing emphasised the impact of ramp observations, of intervening when a mistake is observed and instilling a sense of responsibility in ramp workers.
Martin Dean of DEKRA Insight steered concern over to the incidence of injury on the ramp, referring to the oft-cited Heinrich triangle: reduce minor injuries and indirectly you will reduce the occurrence of serious injury and fatality, he professed. Employing a proactive rather than a reactive approach, managers should focus on eliminating exposure to dangers rather than on minor employee incidents – this can distract attention from the bigger picture, he warned.

Managing the minutiae

The final day got off to a flying start with an engaging session on contract law by Aileen Camacho of Holman Fenwick Willan. Camacho waxed lyrical about the importance of scrutinising the specifics of an SGHA during negotiations. “Don’t assume an SGHA will protect you,” she stressed, citing conflicts with Article 8 that favour the airlines, and varying or unspecified definitions of consequential loss as potential snares in the terms.
Ingrid Braeuninger of Airport Terminal Services followed Camacho with a succinct depiction of the pros and cons of outsourced handling. Distinctly on the side of outsourcing, Braeuninger reeled off the myriad benefits to be gained, including enhanced risk management, efficiency and better resource alignment, while adding that 60% of the US$60bn industry comprises third party handlers.
Christopher SanGiovanni shared his findings on the internal workings at JetBlue, in a session that asked: who is loading and servicing your aircraft? He declared a spike in damage rates for business partner handled flights that went hand in hand with a lack of consistency, simplicity and certification in best practices, along with inconsistent or unenforced SLAs. Safety lacked mention altogether in some of these contracts; also lacking was accountability at the station level.

Economical with the youth

A candid address on the low cost carrier model by Stan Berton of Spirit airlines gave delegates the inside perspective on LCC strategy, in all its no-frills glory. Berton told of the airline’s zero-cost marketing strategy, involving the exclusion of complimentary in-flight extras and the use of sponsored business cards. The key, Berton divulged, is creativity – the introduction of the charged carry-on bag, for example, was not a money grabbing opportunity but an aid to a speedier turn that yields profit simultaneously. Berton also referred to the “juniority benefit” of LCCs, whereby the absence of an ageing workforce equates to the absence of the costs associated with seniority levels and rising pay packets. Emphasising that Spirit’s ability to offer low fares is not related to its ground handling, where no compromises are made, Berton added that in the past low fares has meant the opposite of low cost handling, as smaller stations struggled to absorb the same costs of a bigger operation. With a view to growth, this year Spirit has prioritised improving its customer service and operational reliability, whilst maintaining its low-cost appeal.

Measuring cost

From low cost to keeping costs low, Bill Banfield of MUFJ provided his insights into the cost of GSE maintenance and the metrics with which to measure it. So how do you keep track - and when is repairing old GSE uneconomical? Banfield drove home the importance of mapping out an anticipated timeline, keeping a finger on the pulse and setting benchmarks that can be dealt with accordingly. Building on Banfield’s detailed GSE profile, Rodrigo Simoes of InFlight Solutions Brazil commented on the relative merits of outsourced and in-house GSE maintenance. Outsourcing the function purportedly offered the greater financial benefits, including increased fleet capacity and availability, leading to additional revenue. Simoes also reported a potential 40% increase in equipment lifetime when outsourcing GSE maintenance.

Optimising performance

The conference drew to a close with a series of special interest streams, including a return to the ever more pertinent topic of IT. Quantum and Damarel informed listeners of their cutting edge applications for optimising performance on the ramp – and beyond. Given the tight margin industry we operate in, informed Paul Bruton of Damarel, a solution with a proven track record in reducing costs, improving performance and increasing revenues, such as FindNet, is essential. Quantum’s Equipment Fleet Management tool, a real-time dashboard overseeing all business and operational processes, also offers to enhance cost-savings, productivity and safety. In fact, when one listener pointed out their shared objective, the possibility of a partnership was indicated by Mubin Bajighar, Director of Quantum.

New time, new place

Next year’s conference is to be hosted on the earlier date of June 27-29, and is relocating to the Hilton in downtown Miami. If you missed this year’s event, be sure to book your place for the 3rd Americas GHI conference in 2017.

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