How Trip Support Services and Operators are Evolving (Pt 2)

What are the minimum standards operators should be looking for from their ground handlers, and what ensures they receive adequate care and service? Moreover, how can these standards be ensured in remote locations? Mario Pierobon concludes his review…

Mario Pierobon  |  29th September 2020
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Mario Pierobon
Mario Pierobon

Mario Pierobon holds a Master’s Degree in Air Transportation Management from City University London,...

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Cessna Citation mid-size jet being towed along an airport taxiway

As we began discussing previously, the requirements of business aircraft operators regarding pre-flight aircraft preparation and the market catering to these requirements have evolved rapidly over recent years. This is specifically because of the introduction of technology, macroeconomic trends, and data management...

Today’s business aircraft operators have access to more information and more options than ever before, all of which helps optimize service delivery and timelines.

We’ll conclude our mini-series reviewing best practices for ‘supplier qualification’ and ground services within remote regions.

Supplier Qualification

In the past, most operators would simply hire handlers that were recommended by their service providers. Today, the selection process has become more sophisticated, with operators expecting more from their ground handlers.

There’s an expectation that the international service providers will play a role in selecting ground handlers that meet their own rigorous standards, suggest Carlos Schattenkirchner, director of UAS China.

“They are looking for tangible metrics,” Henry LeDuc, UAS regional operations manager elaborates. “This involves quality monitoring, auditing and more. Basically, the advantage of partnering with a trip provider with a worldwide scope is their capability to do this. UAS does so on an ongoing basis on behalf of operators.”

Historically the choice of FBO would be based on the lowest price of fuel or services or the passenger/crew’s personal preference, notes Robert Baltus, COO, European Business Aviation Association (EBAA), “especially when flying to locations that are not visited frequently, it would be down to the operations department to select an FBO based on either brand or price.

“Today, an operator’s own safety management system (SMS) should ensure control over any related safety risks by identifying and managing its third-party suppliers.

“One way of helping our members achieve this is for EBAA to ensure operators are able to find locations with the right staff, training and procedures through support and promotion of the IBAC International Standard for Business Aircraft Handlers (IS-BAH).”

EBAA promotes IS-BAH as the Business Aviation handling standard with EASA to ensure that business aircraft operators have appropriate standards that apply to them (as opposed to generic airline standards), Baltus notes. “If there is one thing operators can – and in our view should – do from a safety and compliance perspective in the supplier qualification process, it is always to go for an IS-BAH registered handling agent”, he says.

Several operators have their own internal auditing requirements which are either an on-site visit or a desktop audit.

“Each operator may ‘choose’ which areas they concentrate on but they tend to look at the same areas: safety management, documentation and manuals (policies, processes and procedures), training, ground support equipment operation and maintenance, and how employees are supervised whilst performing services”, notes Simon Wade, regional safety manager, Universal Aviation.

A Gulfstream private jet with a fuel truck parked next to it

“There is also the IS-BAH. At this time, the standard is purely ‘optional’ and therefore ground handlers do not have to comply with it. Those who do choose to follow the program must reach and maintain at least stage II. Areas audited include safety management, documentation, emergency response arrangements, training, GSE, maintenance, and security, along with other areas.”

According to Oleg Kafarov, director of portfolio development and corporate communications at Jetex, having the right certification and transparent global standard in aviation is essential to ensure flawless aircraft handling.

“A preliminary audit or questionnaire, followed by site audit, are the best ways to select and appoint the most professional suppliers,” he says. “Coupling a focussing on qualifications and recurrent training, surveys with consistent auditing and communications further helps to improve the process.”

Ground Services in Remote Regions

When it comes to operating in remote regions, services can vary greatly. “Even in locations where we do not have our own location, we work closely with third-parties to ensure they are meeting our minimal standards for safety,” assures Wade.

“Operators should always ask their ground handler what their standards are and how many wing walkers are used.”

Ensuring a seamless ground service in remote locations can indeed be a challenge due to the lack of resources and expertise. “There are stations where luxury ground transportation might not be present to facilitate a more comfortable and convenient aircraft boarding,” says Kafarov.

“Operators should focus on the service offered by the local teams, appropriate training and communication, as well as a systemized approach to mitigate any possible risk or deviation.”

The core advantage of Business Aviation is its ability to operate to remote locations that are under-served by commercial airlines. “Internationally, there is not the FBO system that North American and Western European operators have come to expect.

“At many of the locations, airport employees that also service the commercial operators are the only people servicing aircraft. In many cases, business aircraft are seen as a lower priority to the airlines and all services, including fuel, can be affected by the commercial movements.”

In these circumstances, it is highly recommended that you employ the use of an aircraft supervisor to be directly involved in the on-ground coordination of the services. “It is vital that they have a good familiarity with local processes. They should have ramp access to work to ensure your flight stays top of mind,” Schattenkirchner stresses.

“One of the key advantages in involving a trip support provider like UAS is their daily experience in delivering solutions like staff relocation for supervision every day,” Le Duc adds. “Remote locations are not only a challenge for the operator and the crew but often also for the local airport that sometimes is not as well versed in the particular service needs of business jets.

“So, sending experienced ground staff from other stations makes a significant difference in delivering a successful operation.”

Even in remote regions operators should apply the same preference for IS-BAH registered handling agents. “The IS-BAH is a truly International standard, with registered locations across five continents and if it’s not available, at least use the services of a trip support company with specific knowledge and contacts in that region,” Baltus summarizes.

“The primary selection there should be based on the quality of the operation and on available audit reports and only secondarily on price. Having an aircraft grounded due to a handling mishap close to the home base is one thing - but having it happen in a remote location with all the logistical issues surrounding this is much worse.”

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