10th Asian GHI Conference, Singapore, March 28-30

Written by: Alwyn Brice |
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Ground Handling International’s tenth Asian event, held in the Marina Bay Sands hotel, saw almost 400 delegates attend.

Three days in total, the magazine’s tenth handling conference marked two numerical milestones: as well celebrating a decade of handling conference provision in the Asian region, GHI’s event also recorded the largest ever attendance. With 30 exhibitors providing ample background in terms of GSE, IT and other services, delegates had no reason to be concerned about their time out of the office. Added to that were the One-to-One meetings, an incredibly popular element of the conference: this year almost 1,500 were logged.

Aside from the more traditional papers, the third day of the Asian event was given over to specialist streams, by popular demand: GSE safety advances, care of the ULD, negotiating skills and e-learning were all covered in these specialist workshops, which rounded off the whole event.

The overview

As is traditional with the GHI format, the conference started with a financial overview of the region. Collecting the data and joining up the dots is not a task for the faint-hearted or the impatient: Asia is renowned for its scarcity of data, which makes the delivery of papers on the subject, such as that by Ashwin Noronha, not only difficult but also a little speculative. Delegates, though, always rate the financial presentation as the most valuable: so a plea for more published, or at the very least, more accessible data, should be logged here.

A key thread of Noronha’s paper, for which he admitted he had no immediate answer, was that of how handlers could make money and yet still enjoy a harmonious relationship with their partners. That this was desirable was obvious, for the bare figures are staggering. By 2034 passenger volumes are predicted to hit the 7bn mark. To put that into perspective, the figure is double the total posted in 2015.

Of interest to many in the audience was his assertion that the independent handler presence was growing. Was this in line with markets in Europe? It was hard to say, but a tangible shift in handling dynamics was definitely apparent. Certainly, that continent tied up in red tape and bureaucracy, India, seems to be at last addressing this issue: an updated handling policy has been published which may just smooth the way for foreign handlers.

Another interesting trend concerns GSE provision: it appears that Asia is also embracing the idea of leasing and renting equipment. In all fairness, this has not exactly been a hot topic yet now, it seems, the concept is gaining adherents.

And is there a fourth industrial revolution in the offing? KPMG’s speaker seemed to think so: the age of the digital traveller was upon the sector and it could only be ignored at the latter’s peril. The letters OCD spelled it out: Opinion; Choice; Device. These three nouns, when put together, form the basis of the modern traveller’s requirements, a traveller who wishes to be in complete control of his or her journey.

Safety and cost

Safety and cost are almost inseparable words when talk turns to ground handling.

Born in 2008, ISAGO was to be the industry certification that would bring harmony to the handler/airline relationship. By achieving this award, the handler would have to undergo far fewer (if indeed any) audits; and the carrier would be safe in the knowledge that its handling agent was well qualified for the task of the turnaround.


Yet it hasn’t worked out that way, which is why ISAGO is now being revised. Dnata Singapore’s CEO, Mark Edwards, pulled no punches when he declared that yes, ISAGO was sound in principle but a failure in reality. He had experienced no diminution in audits since gaining the certificate and was at a loss to name any handler who had actually benefited from going through the procedure. All the while individual airlines were stating that they had individual modus operandum, this problem was never going to be resolved.



Investing in leadership will give more value to an operation

To Jetstar’s Head of Operations, Todd Chapman, this is a mantra. How is he so sure? The answer is easy: when an employee decides to sleep in his car, parked under the wing of an aircraft that is due to fly out first light, such passion for the job says it all.

Airlines want ISAGO - yet are still swayed by price

Carriers are still pushing ISAGO yet a non-ISAGO handler may well win a contract through a cheaper price. Mark Edwards at dnata Singapore bemoaned the reality that allows this to happen, mentioning an example of a third (non-ISAGO) handler at Changi who undercut the other two providers significantly to secure a contract. Six months later the third handler had to pull out of the arena, citing an untenable position…

A-CDM is not a system; rather, it’s a culture change

Kris de Bolle, an expert in the area of Airport Collaborative Decision Making, was able to explain to the audience, with the help of a panel, the huge advantages of adopting this approach to the concept of the turnaround. With all stakeholder parties aligned, greater operational efficiency is assured.

The best negotiation is done before you get to the table

How often does the handler complain of an overloaded contract signed for modest returns? If your answer is all too often, then swotting up on negotiation skills should be on your agenda. Kevin Ryan delighted the audience with his carefully chosen body language and weighted conversational remarks to achieve what he wanted from a role-playing accomplice.

Asia is expected to be a growth engine for the next few years

KPMG’s Ashwin Noronha was under doubt about the potential of the Asian region. The Indian continent is looking extremely promising, for example, and even though a complete picture of the region is difficult to assemble because of the fragmentary nature of the available data, all the signs are that enormous growth is on the horizon.


Article 8: open to question?

The legal side of the handling business is, sensibly, best left to the legal experts. That said, interpretation of the SGHA Article 8, in particular a definition of consequential loss, has taxed the finest legal brains within the industry. One such, Kate Seaton of Singapore-based Holman Fenwick Willan, explained to delegates the challenges of coming up with a standard explanation. An absence of Case Law is the fly in the ointment here: quite often cases of ground damage are not contested in court but are settled outside, since both parties are tied by a mutual working relationship in which antagonism and unnecessary cost are best avoided. In addition, the region or the country is a factor in any dispute: a case that might construed in one way in Thailand, for example, could well have a different outcome in a European court.

The Changi effect

Aviation is driving the Singaporean economy: that’s a fact. Singapore, with its limited landmass and absence of a hinterland, has a precarious existence but it is all the more tenacious because of this fact.

According to Yacoob Piperdi, VP Gateway Services – SATS, Changi airport is a microcosm of Singapore as a whole. The regular winner of the world’s best airport award, Changi airport has just completed work on Terminal 4 – while T5 is on the cards for opening in 2030, and around 50m passengers are envisaged. What has spurred Changi has been its readiness to accept the new: witness the use of smart watches by ramp staff and special headsets to improve communication, as well as early check-in lounges. A partnership approach has reaped dividends here; collaboration has opened doors between stakeholders and the net result has been one of a thriving community.

A perennial problem of personnel

Staff came in for consideration by both Ian Bell (of Global Safety Partners) and Bob Rogers, VP of ULD Care. The former warned of the perils of heat stress on the ramp, a subject that it is vital to understand in countries where high levels of humidity are the norm. Staff need protection and plenty of liquids but more importantly, they need knowledgeable supervisors.

That knowledge was seemingly lacking when it comes to ULD management and handling, believes Rogers. The ULD may be a simple, humble tool but it is an essential element in the cargo chain. Its abuse and mismanagement is widespread, which is why Rogers has put his name to a set of guidelines designed to educate and inform users when manoeuvring these containers. Huge expense derives from their clumsy handling – yet common sense and a pragmatic approach can reduce this cost.

To conclude, as always, GHI would like to express its thanks to the conference’s sponsors.

For 2018, the 11th Asian Ground Handling International Conference will take place at the Centara Grand, Bangkok, over March 27-29. We hope to see you there.

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