Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ground Down

Asian Airlines
Neelam Mathews
March 2011
Security issues policy puts limits on ground handling options at India’s Airports

A confrontation between India’s Government and airline industry over ground handling that has been ongoing since 2007 might now be drawing to an end after airlines lost a case in the High Court.

The airlines were arguing against a government policy that restricted airlines to approved ground handlers
only. Many airlines outsource the work to specialist firms. The business is estimated to be worth around US$500million per year.

Stressing the issue of security, the Delhi High Court dismissed arguments against the policy in a judgment pronounced on March 4. This resulted in the airlines going to the highest court, the Supreme Court of India, where analysts say, their plea is likely to be rejected in April.

Instead of outsourcing manpower, airlines will now have to deploy full-time employees or hire the services of security-cleared ground handling agencies.

“This move is also expected to result in enhanced safety for passengers and prevent pilferage of baggage and cargo,” says Airports Authority of India.

The civil aviation ministry has asked all airport operators to initiate steps to implement the new ground-handling policy from April 1.

Presently, Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport has four ground handlers- Air India, Bird Group, Cambata and Turkish company Celebi Holdings that says it has started investing in standardised equipment at New Delhi and Mumbai airports.

“There are issues related to quality benchmarking and baggage security…there are gangs operating at airports. They cannot be controlled as they are not airline employees but outsourced to numerous agencies,” says Satyan Nayar, secretary general, Association of Private Airport Operators.

“We are ready with equipment that is allowed a turning period of 60 days according to IATA standards. We are [also] fully Euro compliant,” says Jungbir Singh, managing director Celebi India.

Till recently, airlines have been using fuel-inefficient agriculture farm tractors to load baggage. Celebi claims it has introduced electrical baggage tractors costing US$60,000 that conform to strict Indian law requiring environmentally friendly equipment.

Celebi is presently the only ground-handling company at Delhi airport that can handle the Airbus A380, for which it has imported equipment worth about US$2 million to move baggage and cargo and push-back equipment, says Can Celebioglu, chairman of Celebi Holdings.

Many infrastructural constraints remain at Indian airports where it is difficult to carry out a turnaround of an aircraft in 25 minutes. “If you do proper cleaning, it takes a minimum of 35 minutes,” says an operator who indicates, as a result, full cleaning of aircraft cannot be done.

A budget airline told Asian Airlines & Airports that ground handling companies were overcharging them when compared to costs they were incurring for themselves. This has been refuted by the ground handlers who say airlines have not calculated “real” costs. “Costs will come down only when there are volumes…also hi-tech equipment comes at a cost,” says an analyst.

“Besides, there is duplication of equipment that causes congestion…causing accidents sometimes as a result,” says Nayar.

Issues will need to be considered once the new order takes place. Safety issues are often forfeited by those working on aircraft without proper uniforms or shoes. Also airport officials say the security required to enter the apron area, is different (i.e. more strict) compared to other parts in the airport.

While there are allegations that over 3,000 employees of manpower supplying companies would lose their jobs, ground-handling agencies have already started the process of short-listing employees for recruitment. The eligible ones will only be recruited once they get clearance from security agencies.

“It is good that India is looking seriously at its cargo infrastructure upgrade. India exports pharmaceuticals, for instance, in a big way. Lack of facilities will hold up growth,” says Canan Celebioglu Tokgoz, vice chairman of the Turkish company.

No comments:

Post a Comment