The future of aviation ground handling

STAKEHOLDERS in the global aviation converged on Milan, Italy recently to address critical issues tugging at the heart of the world economy. The platform on which the experts and aviators ventilated the agenda for the industry was the 14th Ground Handling International.

Expectedly, it was a forum that bustled with new ideas on how the aviation industry could lead the world to a new era of prosperity, having been buffeted by bad policies of political and economic leaderships.

The Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc (NAHCO Aviance) led the corps of the African delegation in terms of presence, sponsorship and contributions.

An analysis by KPMG showed that while other sectors were slowing down, the aviation ground handling had a huge potential for growth, most especially because flight volumes are still increasing. In its session that bordered on industry status check, Merger and Acquisition and future opportunities, the global advisory firm said the overall ground handling market is still growing while consolidation is accelerating, but expressed grave concerns on pricing pressures, cost of expansion and input costs.

The postulations for 2013 and beyond were that growth would still be focused on emerging markets (including Nigeria)

There would be new regulatory frameworks for airport improvement. Airlines and smaller operators would be looking to exit. There would be further liberalisation in the emerging markets.

The admonition for aviation ground handlers, therefore, are exposure to Asia, Latin America, Middle East

equipment efficiency. Being open for niche opportunities, merger and acquisition.

One significance of this conference was its agenda, which lay in sync with the objective of the Nigerian Aviation Roadmap: Rebuilding airport infrastructure and entrenching creativity in processes and procedures.

The conference agreed there is no better time to lift up the industry than now, having experienced a tumultuous year. There are administrative demands and operational pressures from both the airlines and ground handlers, but the conference Chairman, Bob Gurr was more poignant in his address: “Delivering what the airline wants at a price they can afford is indeed a tough balancing act.”

In the coming years, the aviation industry will witness more mergers and acquisitions, more demand from the regulatory authorities and the travelling public. The customer will want to be at the centre of every major initiative, hence the need to develop soft customer insights (that is, ‘living’ in a customer world to be able to provide product/service best suited for him). More importantly mutually beneficial synergies and innovations will determine the survival of the industry.

UK-based Easyjet Airline, in its “Smart Partnering” initiative, demanded from Mallaghan, a Ground Support Equipment manufacturer, to “build a low-cost, simple flexible belt loader that will deliver safety and operational/cost efficiency benefits.” It must also be compatible with its aircraft series A319, A320, B757 and B737.

By the time the equipment, named Bendi-Belt, was launched, it had manpower efficiencies, low-cost design, lower maintenance/servicing costs, reduction in manual handling, operator-friendly and many more. The initiative was meant to make travel easy and affordable. The same airline also went into a synergy for de-icing whereby aircraft would be de-iced in a shortest possible time using fewer gallons of water and chemicals in an environmentally-friendly manner.

Nigeria will not be an island to this global momentum. The airport remodeling and infrastructural renewal being embarked upon by the Aviation ministry will address some of the concerns expressed by delegates at the Ground Handling Conference, who looked towards Africa because of its potential for growth.

The Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc (NAHCO Aviance) has made several efforts to draw the Nigerian aviation onto the global space. The company’s strategic global alliances through membership of Aviance (international alliance of 10 reputable airport service providers operating from 112 stations in 17 countries) and others like The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA), provide a window to this critical global audience.

With sponsorship and presence in several aviation forums across Africa, America, Europe and Asia, the company’s award of ISAGO (IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations), one of the few such certification, augments the country’s Category 1 status for international market access.

Discussions at the Milan conference also dwelled on regional cargo hubs for efficiency and service delivery.

The size, strategic location and economy of Nigeria make the country a natural candidate, but conference delegates believe this can only be realised if initiatives are private-sector driven and if service delivery is raised above average.

The support from NAHCO Aviance, a private sector player, in Nigeria’s aviation is well documented. But beyond that is the company’s N2 billion multi-purpose warehouse, which confers a regional cargo hub status on Nigeria. Recent threats of airlines to review business with Nigeria in the wake of the global security challenge was addressed earlier in the year with nahco aviance’s installation of cargo screening and anti-bomb machines, as well as, provision of security patrol vans.

The company has also given the industry an image boost with “Be an Ambassador Initiative” which has led to operatives displaying acts of integrity. One of such is an operative who, during a cleaning exercise on a foreign airline, found and returned $25,000 and 5,000 Euro to the admiration of airlines.

It is believed that Nigeria will assume its role of regional hub in the near-future if all hands are on deck. Some landmark events are already pointing in this direction, this year’s inaugural flights of Cargolux B747 – 8E and Ethiopian Airline’s B787 which were handled by nahco aviance. Aviation experts believed that the flights signify that Nigeria is a potentially viable market in global aviation.

If the ongoing efforts in the Nigerian aviation are sustained, the expectations of the Milan Conference would be met, and the attainment of the nation’s economic development will just be a short distance away.

• Onayoade is Public Communication manager, NAHCO Plc