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  • Writer's pictureTeam CargoTalk

Ground handling the backbone of air cargo




International ground operations objectives form a vital part of cargo operations. The primary focus is on four pillars: reduction of ground damage, injury and operational incidents through standardized processes and training, operational efficiency and quality service delivery through innovation and technology. We at CARGOTALK delve into this aspect of the air cargo industry for the knowledge of the readers.

Abigail Mathias


IATA highlighted three priorities in order to enable the ground handling sector to build resilience and ensure long-term sustainability. The priorities were outlined at the 35th IATA Ground Handling Conference (IGHC), which opened in Abu Dhabi on 16 May this year.

Fact file

· Effective staff recruitment and retention

· Consistent implementation of global standards

· Accelerating digitalization and automation


Monika Mejstrikova, Director, Ground Operations, IATA


The ground handling sector will need to be ready as it is going to be a busy peak Northern Hemisphere summer season for the aviation industry. In the short-term, we must act fast to prepare for increased traffic. Ensuring efficient onboarding of new employees and working with the governments to reduce bottlenecks in security clearances is critical. More effective staff recruitment and retention, implementing international standards and accelerating digitalization and automation will be critical to build resilience and ensure sustainability in the long-term.staff recruitment and retention


According to a recent IATA survey, as many as 37 per cent of ground handling professionals anticipated staffing shortages until the end of the year and beyond, and 60 per cent felt they did not have enough qualified staff to ensure smooth operations. In addition, 27 per cent of respondents feared that their current employees would leave soon.


“Creating a stable ground handling talent base is essential and it can be achieved by making ramp work more attractive. We need to embrace automation in order to relieve staff from difficult and hazardous tasks, foster a culture of continuous learning, career growth, and create a safe and inclusive environment for people where talent is nurtured,” said Monika Mejstrikova.


IATA outlined a series of initiatives to help alleviate labor shortages:

• Implementation of competency-based training, with more online assessments to improve speed and efficiency

• Mutual recognition of security training and employee background records among authorities to expedite the recruitment process and reduce redundancy

• Automation of processes in a bid to relieve people from performing physically chal lenging tasks

• Promoting career development and rewarding years of training and skills

IATA has recently launched a Ground Operations Training Passport, which supports staff retention and professional growth.

“The real beneficiary of the training passport are the employees. They will have access to training records, allowing them to use their knowledge and skillset for ongoing professional growth. An industry-wide approach to talent development will pay big benefits in terms of efficiency for all those concerned. We need to the empower employees in the industry for success,” Mejstrikova reiterated.


Guillaume Crozier SVP, UAE Cargo & Global Cargo Strategy, dnata


Global teams of dnata, one of the world’s leading cargo service operators, moved over 1.35 million tons of cargo in the first six months of the last financial yeat. dnata provides award-winning handling of goods, including live cargo, dangerous and valuable items. Through its dedicated cool chain facilities, it offers chilled and frozen storage for perishables such as pharmaceuticals, fruit, and vegetables.


dnata heavily invests in innovative technologies; in 2022, it launched its innovative OneCargo system, which is the backbone of its digitization plan. IATA’s Cargo iQ global certification is part of its 2023 target, building more credentials on the back of its data model, and increasing the level of data management work—both recording and computing. This will increase its value proposition by providing airline customers with more visibility to track their shipments, and view how quickly they move under the conditions to protect any type of goods’ integrity.

Acknowledging role of ground handlers


dnata’s industry-leading performance and focus on service excellence helped it win more than 90 new contracts across its global operations in the previous financial year. In addition, it has been recognized for delivering world-class quality and safety and won many accolads on the way, including the Air Cargo News Ground Handler of The Year Award, which it won for the eighth consecutive time in 2022.


This industry-wide recognition has ensured that dnata has consistently maintained a long and successful partnerships with existing customers and won exciting contracts with new international partners.


dnata’s groundbreaking technologies, such as OneCargo and its air cargo portal, Calogi, have been designed alongside its airline partners. This ensures it understands the precise requirements of its customers. dnata maintains an open channel to all its partners, seeking feedback from them, and earned the trust and loyalty of 300 airlines internationally.

dnata continues to work closely with its airline partners to consistently deliver best-in-class services across its international network in the most sustainable manner possible.


Training opportunities

dnata provides training opportunities to its employees to ensure that they remain competent, confident, and safe to perform the operational roles expected of them.


This includes a process of continuous improvement within our dnata Training Management System in order to make sure our safety standards are upheld and go further than the minimum regulatory standards.


A prominent feature of the ‘One dnata’ identity is its continued focus on safety and security. By following international best standards at every global location, dnata is committed to achieving the highest safety and security standards for its customers, employees, and facilities, so that it can build a culture of commitment towards safety.


These technologies—Virtual Reality among others— are included into its training operations in order to ensure dnata’s new and existing ground handlers are as prepared.


Thomas Schürmann, Head, Cargo Operations & Delivery, Etihad Cargo


Etihad Cargo’s ground handling partners play a key role in our daily operations. Therefore, it is critical we partner with ground handlers to ensure full compliance with Etihad Cargo’s procedures and regulations, while handling air freight at stations across our global network.

Safety and security measures are at the heart of Etihad Cargo’s operations, and our ground handling partners are critical to ensuring people, the aircraft and freight are not put at risk at any time during the cargo handling stage. Secondly, ensuring the ground handling partners are reliable. Finally, our ground handling partners are pivotal to our ability to provide our customers with proper handling services, build up and load maximization, which directly impact not only our customers’ satisfaction, but also flight profitability.


Whether they are providing cargo handling services in the warehouse or on the ramp, airlines need licensed ground handling partners to ensure their quality standards are maintained during this critical stage of operations. Therefore, Etihad Cargo carefully selects ground handling partners through a rigorous tender process to ensure they can provide the required services in full compliance with our requirements. We are committed to developing a true partnership with our ground handlers that extends beyond contractual obligations. These relationships offer mutual advantages in terms of dedication and performance and benefit our customers.


The industry is fast-moving and evolving in terms of requests and requirements. So, Etihad Cargo is committed to continuous improvement, which it achieves through positive dialogue with all stakeholders to ensure that it provides the best service proposition aligned with our customers’ expectations.


Etihad Cargo is committed to delivering on time through a robust supplier management system. This encompasses not only measuring and monitoring performance, but also maintaining close contact with our handling partners, ensuring regular communication across every facet of operations on a local, regional, and international level.


Apart from daily interactions, we hold regular meetings with our ground handlers. These meetings provide an open forum in which performance is analyzed and we discuss how we can improve and where we can make operations efficient. All feedback we receive is evaluated, and we work collaboratively to implement suggestions, make processes more efficient, and provide preventative validation to ensure full compliance with Etihad Cargo’s procedures and manuals.


We impart training to all stakeholders, and train our partners should they request it. That said, the internal process starts by validating our ground handling partners’ training programs. If gaps are identified, Etihad Cargo can then offer training suited to addressing those gaps. We provide products and procedure training as required to ensure our partners are equipped to handle freight in compliance with our standards.


Antony Marke, COO, Dulsco People


Dulsco People provides the workforce to ground handlers such as dnata, part of Emirates Group, who is responsible for the daily operations. It is significant that agents such as Dulsco are fully au fait and in synchronization with client requirements for them to meet their own goals and business objectives.


At Dulsco, we ensure that the people we deploy are reliable, accountable, and skilled so that they can complement our clients’ services. Ultimately, we all work together for efficient, smooth, and successful operations.


The operation of the ground handling systems is the responsibility of our clients. Although we do not manage or operate the systems per se, we are, of course, on board with a training matrix so that we can ensure that the people we deploy are continually imparted training up to our required standards.


Specialized training

Dulsco People offers a diverse range of training programs for ground handlers. Our workforce is fully trained in driving through our Dulsco Training Academy, QHSE programs, manual handling, working at heights, among others, in order to make sure we are providing the right people for the job on hand.


As well as providing the resources for ground handling operations, apart from adhering to the regulations, our ground handler clients regularly conduct audits in a bid to ensure that we comply with their required standards.


Rami Younes, COO, ALS Logistic Solutions


Ground handlers play an important role in daily operations of air cargo. They handle the transportation of cargo within the airport premises and coordinate with various stakeholders involved in the supply chain. Their timely execution of these tasks is crucial in ensuring the smooth flow of air cargo operations.


The feedback provided by ground handlers is essential for identifying bottlenecks, inefficiencies, or areas for improvement in the cargo handling processes.

Ground handlers work closely with system providers and airport authorities, sharing their insights and suggestions for enhancements. This feedback loop helps in refining system operations, streamlining processes, and addressing any challenges faced by ground handlers.


Specialized training


Our company recognizes the significance of specialized training for ground handlers focused on air cargo handling systems and equipment. We provide comprehensive training programs tailored to the specific needs of ground-handling operations.


These programs cover a wide range of topics, including the safe and proper use of specialized cargo handling equipment and systems. By investing in specialized training, we ensure our ground handlers are equipped with the necessary know-how and skills to perform their tasks efficiently and effectively, contributing to the overall success of our cargo operations.


Jonas van Stekelenburg, Advisor, Department of Economic Development and Commerce


The handlers at international cargo airports in Puerto Rico (SJU and BQN) are important. The handlers are for part self-handling operations, and part independent handling operations. Their role in the operations is important since a high percentage of Puerto Rico’s air freight is either pharmaceutical or medical device shipments. Puerto Rico is the biggest life science air cargo hub, the USA. Such shipments need a trained work force, often require special attention in the form of cold storage facilities, require high-quality hand-over procedures and they require attention in case of incursions.


All this is especially of concern for the handler, since he or she is the one where the ground operation is linked with the air operation. A lot of interests concur at the point in the supply chain, and this is not easy to deal with.


The ground handlers have been offered a role in Puerto Rico’s Air Cargo Community Board, so they will be able to steer the community in the future. The handlers take part in IATA CEIV training the USA government has sponsored and take part in discussion about what community challenges to take up next year.


The handlers regularly offer feedback on operations. This is not done in a standardized way, open for everyone, but as part of the SOPs, big life science shippers (Johnson & Johnson and Amgen) and forwarders have requested from their logistic suppliers. We have the ambition to standardize them. We offer IATA CEIV training in the coming months, and the community will support regular training in the near future.


As a first step, the parties involved have taken up is to conduct a joint IATA CEIV certification for pharma air logistics. There were already some who have received CEIV certification. About 10 companies are participating in the new effort. The aim is to improve the quality of the life science shipments and set standards for those shipments. Finally, everyone in the supply chain must be made aware of the value of these shipments and how to treat them.

The participating community members are working out as to what challenges they are facing in cargo ops. They are currently listing all challenges and setting priorities. There are a variety of issues:

• Puerto Rico is not well known for its life science industry and the logistics for life sciences. This hampers investment and business cases for Puerto Rico. So, how can we make them aware?

• We do not have all air cargo data. What capacity does Puerto Rico have with its airports and airlines? What volume is transported to and where? We need to have all this data.

• We are setting priority list about should be improved and when. One of the issues is the renovation of the (public) entrance road to SJU airport.


Marco Kölsch, Sales Manager, Ground Handling, Fraport

As ground handler of many cargo airlines in FRA, we are playing an important role in handling the increased freight volume and ensuring the smooth operation of daily business. Through regular exchanges with our system partners, we actively identify current challenges and work together to overcome them through appropriate actions, both operationally and innovatively. One crucial aspect of our assistance is maintaining regular communication with our system partners. This open dialogue enables us to discuss current requirements and bottlenecks and find solutions to ensure the seamless flow of cargo handling.

We work closely with airlines to ensure efficient coordination of cargo flights. This involves planning and optimizing loading and unloading times, coordinating ground handling services, and providing the necessary equipment. By maintaining a smooth flow of information between partners, we can quickly respond to changes

in the flight schedule and make the adjustments in order to ensure swift handling.

In addition to operational measures, we strive to introduce innovative solutions to meet the increasing demands. We invest in modern technologies that enhance the efficiency and accuracy of cargo handling. By utilizing such technologies, we can identify bottlenecks and take appropriate action in a timely manner to eliminate them.

Furthermore, we participate in providing training and development programs to keep our employees up to date and equip them with the necessary skills to handle the ever-changing demands of the cargo business.

As ground handlers, we take pride in contributing to the management of the increased freight volume. Through regular exchanges with our system partners and the implementation of operational and innovative measures, we can tackle the daily challenges and ensure efficient cargo handling. Our collective efforts help to keep the supply chain running smoothly and ensure customer satisfaction.


Atilla Korkmazoğlu, President, Ground Handling and Cargo, EMEA, Çelebi


Having spent 30 years in this industry and Çelebi, I believe we are concentrating on emerging markets, especially the Middle East. As of the start of the next year, we are hoping the market is going to be at the same level as 2019. In many emerging markets its already at that stage.

Regarding sustainability there is a lot of pressure on the aviation industry. Since the airlines are our customers, they are going to ask us to be zero net emissions. We have invested in a TaxiBot project, which is a semi-robotic and pilot commanded tow tractor. It saves fuel and helps the environment. Some of the other features are:

Reduction of fuel consumption up to 85 per cent, reduction of CO2 and other noxious gases up to 85 per cent, decreasing noise levels up to 60 per cent, drop in aircraft engine cycle time and saving €200 (AED 794) per flight.

There is a lot of electric equipment being produced. IT infrastructure change is another fact that is going to affect ground handlers to become more efficient by using IT tools. We are dedicated to being pioneers in sustainability. The airport associations are working on this aspect, there is a lot to look forward to.

What airport associations have learnt over the recent past is that a crisis brings everyone closer. It helps us now to mitigate risks. We see that there is a requirement to retain talent in the industry and are thinking of innovative methods of bringing in the best manpower.


Raed H. Al-Idrissi, CEO, Saudi Ground Services


Saudi Ground Services was recently awarded four Training Validation Program (TVP) Certifications by IATA, covering 50 course titles relevant to the aviation industry comprising four categories of ramp handling, passenger handling, general aviation and safety, and load control.

These certifications recognize excellence in workplace learning practices and in compliance with global and ground operation training management in IATA’s Airport

Handling Manual.

We believe this certification will help us fortify our position as a solutions provider and to serve customer airlines in the safest manner. Our team has worked hard to ensure our training programs are of the highest standard.


Usanee Itritmeechai, Customer Service Section Duty Manager, Pattaya Aviation\

Ground handlers are the backbone of the air cargo operations, serving a gamut of tasks such as cargo acceptance, handling, loading, and unloading. Ground handlers help to ensure the safe transport of cargo, which includes preventing damage or loss of cargo and protecting it during loading and unloading. They also play a key role in transportation of dangerous goods and perishables. In this regard, ground handlers are imparted special training. They also assist in increasing the revenue per flight, by helping to optimize cargo capacity and minimize delays. Ground handlers offer feedback on system ops, which are used to improve operations. SLAs define performance standards, such as TAT for cargo, and provide a mechanism for monitoring and reporting on performance.”


Rajesh Menon, Regional Head, Cargo, South Asia, Middle East & Africa, Cathay Cargo

We take pride in delivering superior service to our valued customers, while complying with the highest levels of safety, security, and on-time performance. A lot of effort goes into ensuring we live up to the high standards we have set for ourselves, which is achieved by partnering with a reliable and committed ground handling partner. We finalize partners capable of delivering exceptional service that Cathay Cargo is renowned for following a stringent supplier selection process.


Cathay Cargo defines five KPIs, including safety, cargo IQ, among others that form the foundation to offer service to our customers. Our ground handling partners adhere to these KPIs daily to make the experience seamless to our customers. Our partners also play a vital role in liaising and coordinating with local and regulatory authorities on matters related to operations and compliance under the guidance of the Cathay team.


Performance reviews

We value our partners who play a critical role in helping us achieve common goal to provide quality service to our cargo customers. This goal includes safe carriage of cargo and efficient flight turnaround. We have a performance review system to gauge operational efficiency at each of the ports we operate. Our ports and partners undergo a monthly and annual performance review encompassing various elements of our operations.


We collaborate regularly with our ground handlers on ways to improve operational efficiency, which will help us curate solutions and offer superior service to our customers. In the monthly meetings with our partners, there is an exchange of best practices, and each aspect of operations is reviewed.

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