Ground Handling at Airports: Enhancing Efficiency and Reliability in Cargo Operations

Did you receive your Amazon package within a day? Or maybe a luxury item sent by a loved one overseas was delivered spic and span after crossing continents! Described as a bouquet of services provided to, among others, the identification of the destination of cargo and providing solutions for efficient and smooth functioning upon conclusion of a flight, ground handling at airports plays a crucial role in ensuring the smooth and efficient flow of aviation, and more so, cargo operations worldwide. A peek into this ball of tangled threads is what we try to achieve with this month’s cover story.

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In the intricate web of aviation operations, precision and punctuality are considered paramount. Ensuring these principles are exercised, ground handling services at airports serve as the foundation upon which the smooth flow of air transportation rests.

From the delivery at the airport of origin, until it is ready for loading on the plane, to the unloading at the destination and handover to the consignee/freight forwarder, many steps are involved with cargo handling that must be closely followed to ensure shipments are delivered safely and securely.

Ground handling agents, also known as ground service providers, are the backbone of air cargo ground handling operations. They are responsible for a wide array of tasks, including the aforementioned.

Ground handling agents are responsible for ensuring that cargo is handled efficiently, and adhering to safety regulations and industry standards. They serve as the primary interface between cargo airlines, freight forwarders, and other stakeholders, coordinating activities to expedite the movement of goods through the airport.

According to dnata, the basic ground handling services for air cargo include, but are not restricted to:

  • Customs documentation and clearance
  • Accept, assemble, and prepare cargo
  • Cargo loading on/off trucking services
  • Explosive device detecting & X-ray screening capabilities
  • Cold chain and ambient
  • Perishable goods and pharma
  • Dangerous goods and AVI
  • Valuable goods and special cargo
  • Cargo Storage & ULD Handling

Ultimately, the collaboration between ground handling agents, technology companies, and service users is crucial for driving continuous improvement in ground handling. Regular communication and feedback loops help identify areas for optimization and ensure that the needs of all stakeholders are met. By embracing innovation, fostering partnerships, and focusing on customer satisfaction, the ground-handling industry can contribute to a seamless and efficient air travel experience for all.

A very evident shift is being noticed in the type and volume of goods that are moved worldwide via air. One can see more of special commodities, less of letters/mail, more parcels, and ofcourse more periods of high demand.

As a result, shippers, freight forwarders and logistics providers increasingly demand or expect excellence, simplicity, traceability, transparency, and speed. Add to it a tempering of various rules and regulations.

IATA suggests that changes are needed in business models, architectural and process designs, deployed technologies, and workforce skillsets. The cargo facility of the future will be safe and secure, green, automated, connected, and smart. This will ensure the cargo facility of the future is fit for purpose in size, location, and for the people who use it.

Ground handling agents will have a big role in facilitating all of this.

From the Service Provider

Customer experience refers to the overall satisfaction and perception of customers with the services provided by GHAs. It encompasses every aspect of the cargo handling process, from booking and acceptance to delivery and documentation.

By providing efficient, reliable, and personalized services, GHAs can differentiate themselves in a competitive market, attract and retain customers, and strengthen their reputation. As for any other business, positive customer experiences can lead to increased operational efficiency, as satisfied customers are more likely to cooperate and provide timely information, facilitating smoother cargo handling operations.

“Our organization prioritizes the empowerment of our employees through dedicated training programs, designed to equip them with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate the complexities of their roles effectively.” Sanjay Gupta, CEO, AISATS

From the Service User

Taking the perspective of a service user, understanding the intricacies of ground handling is paramount for successful operations. This is because for service users, the efficiency and reliability of ground handling operations directly impact their ability to meet customer demands, maintain schedules, and ensure the safety and security of transported goods. A service user can be a shipper, freight forwarder, or any entity involved in the supply chain using air cargo services.

One of the critical aspects service users consider is the quality of service provided by ground handling agents. Timeliness, accuracy, and adherence to safety protocols are paramount. Delays or mishandling of cargo can lead to significant disruptions in supply chains, financial losses, and damage to reputation. Therefore, service users often seek ground-handling partners with a proven track record of reliability and professionalism.

“Integrating AI and analytics will optimize operations by forecasting demand, planning optimal routes, and identifying potential bottlenecks. We also advocate for the development of eco-friendly solutions like electric-powered ground support equipment and alternative fuel options.” Malcolm D’Souza, Director Air Freight, Jeena & Company

Aided by Technology

Technology companies play a crucial role in enhancing air cargo ground handling operations through the development and implementation of innovative solutions. Advanced technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence, and IoT are revolutionizing various aspects of ground handling, from cargo tracking and monitoring to warehouse management and inventory control.

Mr Elie El Khoury (Director, Product Management for VAS, SITA Tech) shares, “In today’s aviation industry, the optimization of ‘below the wing’ operations is essential. The digitalization and automation of ground processes have become imperative, and cutting-edge wireless and mobility products are at the forefront of this transformation.”

Discussing their business offerings, Ashok Rajan (Head of Cargo and Logistics Solutions, IBS Software) shares, “We work with the world’s leading air cargo businesses and provide them with the most modern and market-leading solutions for ground handling. Our modern, AI-driven cloud platform offers support to cargo ground handlers through its robust shipment management function. It provides handlers with better visibility through tailored dashboards – from warehouse to shipping.”

Similarly, Mukesh Mudholkar (Vice President – Air Cargo Practice, Kale Logistics) shares, “Ground handling companies grapple with customs bottlenecks, airport congestion, and resource management challenges. Kale’s solutions tackle these issues head-on, facilitating real-time data sharing, efficient truck slot management, and expedited customs clearance. With advanced shipment notification capabilities, operators can plan resources effectively.”

In a technology-driven era like the present, there are various tools and techniques – both hardware and software – that aid GHAs in their quest for operational excellence. By analyzing key metrics such as cargo throughput, processing times, and resource utilization, cargo handlers gain valuable insights into operational bottlenecks, customer preferences, and market trends. These insights empower them to make informed decisions, optimize resource allocation, and implement proactive strategies to improve service quality and profitability.

“Presents insights into air cargo ground handling. Emerging technologies like AGVs, robotic palletizing, and blockchain-based documentation enhance efficiency. Strategies for operational efficiency and environmental sustainability include training programs, optimized processes, and sustainable infrastructure investments. Proactive safety and security measures involve advanced equipment, training, and collaboration with law enforcement. Navigating regulatory challenges necessitates technology investments and engagement with authorities. Lessons from disruptions like COVID-19 emphasize health protocols, contingency planning, and resilience. These insights guide stakeholders in ensuring efficient, sustainable, safe, and resilient air cargo ground handling.” Dr Pramod Sant, Industry Expert and Former VP – Head EXIM at Siemens

This is an abridged version of the Cover Story published in the April 2024 issue of Logistics Insider magazine. To read the complete story, click here.

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