How Trip Support Services & Operators are Evolving (Pt 1)

The requirements of business aircraft operators in terms of aircraft preparation before a flight, and the market that caters to these requirements, have evolved rapidly over recent years. Mario Pierobon explores how service providers are adapting to operator needs...

Mario Pierobon  |  24th August 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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Pilot checks his flying apps in his private jet cockpit

Today, business aircraft operators have access to more information and options than ever before helping to optimize service delivery and timelines. This is good news, since the aircraft operator is also legally responsible for ensuring that a flight can operate safely from Point A to Point B...

It is also the responsibility of the operator to identify and use the best available data, expertise and resources from among multiple sources and third parties to support that goal. “Depending on whether an aircraft is flying under private or commercial rules the requirements might differ, but in broad terms they are the same,” says Robert Baltus, COO, European Business Aviation Association (EBAA).

“The actual flying might have only changed slightly over time, but the rules, regulations, and security measures have increased and they have made the preparation of a flight more complex. 

“At the same time IT technology and mobile applications have made it possible for flight crews to get the information straight from their operations centers,” he adds.

“The role of the ground handler has been identified as a crucial component in ensuring the safe arrival, parking and departure of the aircraft, its passengers, and crew. In view of this, the procedures and training of ground staff has become more professional over the years.”

But what does this look like in practice for operators seeking the most sophisticated, safety-focused services in today’s market? 

According to Oleg Kafarov, director of portfolio development and corporate communications at Jetex, new smart technology offers more flexibility and facilitates advanced operational planning.

“Ground handling teams start working long before the flight, to understand payload requirements, analyse the best route, obtain the necessary permits, as well as fuelling, catering, flight briefing and other elements of a successful trip,” he notes. “All of this is facilitated by efficient, real-time digital communication between all departments.

“Today more than ever we are committed to facilitating smooth and seamless international travel regardless of its complexity.” This is just as well, because according to Carlos Schattenkirchner, director of UAS China, the expectations of the end users have increased.

Operator/Provider Partnership

“The operators who used to make service provider decisions, based on the price of the fuel, are increasingly looking for more of a partnership with providers who share the same level of commitment to the SMS systems they have spent time, energy and resources implementing in their own flight departments,” Schattenkirchner says.

“These operators understand that their biggest risk factors are tied to the providers they choose to partner with in the most dynamic of operating environments,” adds Henry LeDuc, UAS regional operations manager.

The handling processes have also become more standardized. Standards and certifications such as IBAC’s IS-BAH, Training Standard, and Safety First are becoming widely recognized and are important identifiers for operators to more easily identify like-minded partners.

“Because there is no standard governing body for ground handlers, these standards are helping to transform the service-end in a similar way that IS-BAO had on the individual flight departments,” says Schattenkirchner.

Communication is another evolving expectation. “Each of the flights are becoming more complex,” LeDuc explains. “There are more entities that are involved in each operation. Especially in the ‘age of COVID-19’, there has been a greater need for effective coordination than ever before.

“Successful collaboration with government agencies, ancillary services, and crew members is key to an operator’s success,” he continues. “Integrity and compliance are critical in today’s business world. This factor has played an increasing role over time, and having a partner who understands local requirements and has an effective relationship with the local entities can keep operators out of trouble and on time.”

Damage Resulting from Ground Handling

While it’s difficult to derive accurate data on damage caused during ground handling (no central database exists), based on research conducted by IBAC, approximately 1,020 incidents were captured, though not all involved Business Aviation.

A high percentage of these resulted in aircraft damage, Baltus notes. “Of these events, 48% involved an aircraft coming into contact with ‘something’ on the ground; 40% of the incidents occurred when the aircraft was ‘parked’ and in the care of the ground handling service provider.

“This is a very small snapshot of what we believe to be the real figure, and one insurer shows the average incident damage (for our sector) to be in the region of US$125,000 over the past 16 years, meaning the cost to industry could be upwards of $28m per year in direct costs,” Baltus continues.

“Many organizations do not want ‘their’ mishaps published, so keep them in-house,” Simon Wade, regional safety manager, Universal Aviation explains. 

“Most ground mishaps occur during the ground movement and towing process and are commonly attributed to policy not being followed.

“Usually it’s a lack of wing walkers deployed around the aircraft during the towing manoeuvre that leads to collision with other aircraft or structures. Increased training, monitoring and staff adherence to policy have all helped reduce the mishap rate to low levels,” he says.

Utmost care and vigilance should be taken whenever handling an aircraft, says Kafarov. “As in any operation, rare accidents could occur. But this is not common. Team members should be consistently trained, audited and have a system in place to easily report near-misses or other suggestions.

“It is vital to continuously communicate, train and monitor operations at all times,” he adds. Overall, Schattenkirchner and LeDuc agree, due to the increased training standards the risk of aircraft damage on the ramp is relatively low. “Due to the potential operational impact and the cost an incident can incur, the commitment to explore better, safer ways are well worth the effort,” LeDuc adds.

“Increased congestion as well as the elevated number of movements on the ramps have added to the risk level, and these are important factors to consider,” he continues. “Ensuring an appropriate number of personnel for movements and proper equipment will help to reduce your risks.

“Thankfully, due to organizational diligence and training, aircraft damage is extremely rare compared to the total number of legs,” he concludes.

Next Time…

Next month we’ll continue our discussion with a look at how operators are selecting their trip support providers to help them achieve the highest standards in operational safety…

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