Ground handling skills shortage revealed

Written by: Alwyn Brice |
Very useful survey by GHI (as always)

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Acute ground handling skills shortages are jeopardising safety at European airports with the drought in personnel getting worse, GHI can exclusively reveal.

Almost 80% of operators reported a skills shortage in the GHI Skills Survey 2020, a 25% increase since the last survey was conducted in 2017.

A further 77% of the 100+ aviation business leaders surveyed said that they had suffered a lost time accident or near miss as a direct result of the dearth in personnel. At least one in ten flights is adversely affected because of ground handling skills shortages in more than 50% of operations, the survey found.

“There is a general lack of people with skills who are interested in working at the airport,” said one respondent.” Another added: “It’s very challenging to recruit and retain high quality staff as plenty of opportunities exist in adjacent industries that offer better pay and more family-friendly working hours.”

Ramp operatives and passenger check-in agents are the most problematic positions to fill, according to GHI’s Skills Survey. Poor pay was the named the top reason why employees in these roles quit. However, 43% of aviation leaders said that they felt current pay levels for ramp operative and check-in roles were commensurate with the responsibilities of the job.

Only half of ground handling respondents said that they had communicated their challenges with skills shortages during contract negotiations with airline customers. One manager commented: “It’s our responsibility to resolve the challenges faced and make the industry a more attractive alternative to other roles in and around the aerodrome.”

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Although I am very much involved in aviation still, I am not directly involved in running a Ground Handling business any more, therefore I feel after having senior roles in several large European Ground Handling Companies, my knowledge is at least reasonable... This issue has been around for many years (20 at least) at everyone talks about it but then most do nothing about it..... In any Ground Handling operation the cost of labour is around 70% of all revenue collected, again this is well known. So the only place really to save money when the airline is pushing down the price is to lower the labour cost.. I have heard all the statements about looking for efficiencies etc but basically this tinkles at the edges, with this percentage being so high.. It is what you actually pay the employees that usually takes the hit, along with the number of people you try to operate with. I have also heard many airlines say price is not the driver and clearly they most of them don't believe what they are saying themselves, as most airlines now (for good reason) are massively cost driven. Right now in the UK there are GH operations running whereby the management know they don't pay enough, they are making a loss, and the airlines will not pay more !! So the effect of all this is poor service, financial losses and the spiral down continues. There are some encouraging signs but by far not enough. There are two/three operations in the UK whereby the airlines have agreed to a cost model change and now pay for what they want, such as a large airline at STN, who over the last year or so, have achieved with their handler a massively improved operation, with the airline paying the handling more but making I would guess good savings due to a better operation. There is also one on MAN and one in BHX, and maybe more.. 50p/ 80p extra revenue to the handing agents per seat would almost certainly solve this issue, if all that money was given to the employees. The handling company does not need to keep any of this as their saving comes from less recruitment, lower turnover, happier staff etc... It is simply not true that the salaries are OK for airside roles, when at STN you can earn more stacking beans on a shelf for a major supermarket close to the airport, then a dispatcher does, who signs off an aircraft save to fly with 400 people onboard !!! This is madness. So everyone in the handling agents and the airlines need to accept this situation and copy what a few airlines have started to do, which is pay more upfront but then save it on EU261, lost bags, meals and hotac, more efficient crewing etc Just the thoughts of an old man !!!
Very useful survey by GHI (as always)

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