UK government completes review of airport ground handling operations

An aircraft is marshalled to a parking bay at Heathrow airport.
Photo: Heathrow Airport

The UK government has now completed a review of aviation ground handling operations, which it commissioned last June in order to address aviation disruption issues.

The government has now set out 10 areas for the aviation industry to focus on to ensure airport ground operations get back to full capacity and thus avoid a repeat of the travel disruption which the nation experienced last summer.

The promulgation of this report concludes its review of the ground handling market, which the government committed to as part of its wider 22-point plan for tackling aviation disruption last June.

Staff shortages a major factor


The report has found that staffing shortages were a major contributing factor in last summer’s disruption, with ground handlers struggling to recruit enough staff in time for the peak travel season after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

As a result of this shortfall, the industry faced issues with the passenger onboarding processes. Addressing this matter, Aviation Minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton said:

“The misery passengers faced last year when their flights were severely delayed or cancelled at the last minute was simply unacceptable.”

“We’ve made it clear that improvements can and must be made, so the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) are working closely with the industry to build a resilient ground handler market for years to come.”

Since then, the aviation industry has made significant progress to improve its resilience. To ensure this progress continues, the government has also proposed:

  • further exploration of how to improve how ground handlers’ performance is measured and monitored
  • better engagement between ground handlers and the government, including through the new Aviation Services UK trade association
  • continued support from the government and industry’s flagship Generation Aviation programme for recruitment, retention, upskilling and outreach
  • establishing a series of working groups involving airports, airlines and ground handlers to address areas including airport ID processes and performance standards

Companies failed to meet demand


Ground handlers undertake several activities including baggage handling, check in, catering and refuelling. But last year as the industry began its recovery, companies were unable to meet demand.

Shortages of staff at airports, including drops in ground handler performance, had a domino effect on the rest of airport operations, causing delays and last-minute cancellations for passengers around the country.

While the aviation industry operates in the private sector, and is responsible for managing demand and resourcing, passengers should have confidence the government is doing everything it can to help ahead of this summer season.

Summary


The UK government’s in-depth review of how the ground handling industry works involved wide-ranging consultation with industry.

The overarching aim of the process was to assist the aviation industry in rebuilding its strength and resilience in order to deliver the appropriate level of services for passengers into the coming years.

With Baroness Vere meeting industry representatives to discuss Easter preparedness last week, it’s important that both the private sector and the government move in lockstep.

The government closed that statement by acknowledging that: “By focusing on these areas, the aviation industry, the government and CAA can build a sector that provides a world-leading service for passengers long into the future.”

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