UK Government completes review of airport ground operations to increase sector’s resilience

Ministers have agreed on ten areas for the aviation industry to focus on to address the issues with ground handling at airports seen last summer

Aim to help the aviation industry to rebuild its strength and resilience so they can deliver for passengers for years to come.

Follows an in-depth review of how the ground handling industry works and wide-ranging consultation with industry.

The Government has today (30 March 2023) set out ten areas for the aviation industry to focus on to ensure airport ground operations get back to full capacity and passengers avoid a repeat of the travel disruption seen last summer.

It concludes its review of the ground handling market, which the Government committed to as part of its wider 22-point plan for tackling aviation disruption last June.

The report finds that staffing shortages were a major factor in last summer’s disruption, with ground handlers struggling to recruit enough staff in time for the peak travel season after Covid restrictions were lifted and facing issues with onboarding processes.

Aviation Minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton said:

“The misery passengers faced last year when their flights were severely delayed or cancelled at the last minute was simply unacceptable.

“We’ve made it clear that improvements can and must be made, so the CAA are working closely with the industry to build a resilient ground handler market for years to come.”

Since then, the aviation industry has made significant progress to improve its resilience. To ensure this progress continues, the Government has also proposed:

Further exploration of how to improve how ground handlers’ performance is measured and monitored,
Better engagement between ground handlers and the Government, including through the new Aviation Services UK trade association,
Continued support from the Government and industry’s flagship Generation Aviation programme for recruitment, retention, upskilling and outreach,
Establishing a series of working groups involving airports, airlines and ground handlers to address areas including airport ID processes and performance standards.
Ground handlers undertake several activities including baggage handling, check in, catering and refuelling. But last year, as the industry began its recovery, companies were unable to meet demand.

Shortages of staff at airports, including drops in ground handler performance, had a domino effect on the rest of airport operations, causing delays and last-minute cancellations for passengers around the country.

While the aviation industry operates in the private sector, and is responsible for managing demand and resourcing, passengers should have confidence the Government is doing everything it can to help ahead of this summer season. With Baroness Vere meeting industry representatives to discuss Easter preparedness last week, both the private sector and the Government must move in lockstep.

By focusing on these areas, the aviation industry, the Government and CAA can build a sector that provides a world-leading service for passengers long into the future.

Ten focus areas :

  1. CAA and DfT to work with industry to encourage greater use of performance standards, collaboration and coordination to improve productivity/efficiency. 
  2. DfT / CAA will assess ICAO’s proposed changes regarding ground handling safety protocols ahead of an implementation date in July 2024 and continue to monitor safety standards in the industry. 
  3. Government will continue to work to protect consumer rights, and support industry to provide the best service possible for consumers as it rebuilds following the pandemic.  
  4. Formation of a ground handling trade association to enable better government and industry engagement.  
  5. DfT maintain dedicated resource to engage with ground handlers, representing their views in/across Government.  
  6. Government (CAA/DfT) will engage regularly with industry to examine, plan and consider actions for future resilience issues.  
  7. A pan-industry working group will consider future opportunities to adapt to future demands, for example automation and net zero requirements.  
  8. The flagship programme between Government and Industry – Generation Aviation – will continue to support the aviation industry in recruitment, retention, upskilling and outreach.   
  9. The UK has one of the most robust aviation security regimes in the world. We will ensure it reflects the changing operations of the employment market as well the challenges faced when seeking the required references when recruiting.  
  10. Airports, airlines and ground handlers will form a pan-industry taskforce to identify and deliver long term solutions at speed regarding airport ID processes to assist with onboarding.

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