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Aircraft ground handling of a Lufthansa Airbus A380 at Frankfurt Airport in Germany.

In aviation, aircraft ground handling or ground operations defines the servicing of an aircraft while it is on the ground and (usually) parked at a terminal gate of an airport.


Icelandair Boeing 757 being serviced by another airline; SAS at Gardermoen Airport
A ground-handling tug pulls a British Airways Boeing 747-400 at Heathrow Airport, England
Airbus A380-800 operated by Qatar Airways on apron outside Heathrow Terminal 4 with a wide range of ground handling equipments around such as aircraft container, pallet loader, ULD, jet air starter, belt loader, pushback tug, catering vehicles and dollies.

Many airlines subcontract ground handling to airports, handling agents or even to another airline. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), conservative estimates indicate airlines outsource more than 50 per cent of the ground handling that takes place at the world's airports.[1] Ground handling addresses the many service requirements of an airliner between the time it arrives at a terminal gate and the time it departs on its next flight. Speed, efficiency, and accuracy are important in ground handling services in order to minimize the turnaround time (the time during which the aircraft must remain parked at the gate).[2] Faster turnarounds for lower ground times are correlated to better profits.[3]

Airlines with less-frequent service or fewer resources at a particular location sometimes subcontract ground handling or on-call aircraft maintenance to another airline, as it is a short-term cheaper alternative to setting up its own ground handling or maintenance capabilities.

Catering-truck at Chania International Airport.
Credit: Marius Vassnes

Airlines may participate in an industry-standard Mutual Assistance Ground Service Agreement (MAGSA). The MAGSA is published by the Air Transport Association (the current version is from 1981) and is used by airlines to assess prices for maintenance and support to aircraft at so-called MAGSA Rates, which are updated annually based on changes in the U.S. Producer Price Index.[citation needed] Airlines may choose to contract for ground handling services under the terms of a Standard Ground Handling Agreement (SGHA) published in the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Airport Handling Manual.[4] Airlines may also contract for ground handling services under non-standard terms.

Most ground services are not directly related to the actual flying of the aircraft, and instead involve other tasks. The major categories of ground handling services are described below.

Aircraft Appearance and Provisioning

Services related to aircraft cleanliness and passenger comfort:


Main article: Catering

Catering includes the unloading of unused food and drink from the aircraft, and the loading of fresh food and drink for passengers and crew. In flight airline meals are delivered at the seats in airline service trolleys. Empty or trash-filled trolley from the previous flight are replaced with fresh ones. Meals are prepared mostly on the ground in order to minimize the amount of preparation (apart from chilling or reheating) required in flight.

While some airlines provide their own catering, others have either owned catering companies in the past and divested themselves of the companies, or have outsourced their catering to third-party companies. Airline catering sources include the following companies:

Ramp service

Luggage being unloaded from a Northwest Airlines Boeing 757-200 at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
A British Airways aircraft being refueled
KLM Pushback tractor and a ground power unit
Lavatory drainage

This includes services on the ramp or apron, such as:

Passenger service

Business jet cleaning

This includes services inside the airport terminal such as:

Field operation service

This service dispatches the aircraft, maintains communication with the rest of the airline operation at the airport and with Air Traffic Control.

List of notable handling agents

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Hong Kong










The Caribbean



St. Vincent and the Grenadines



















United Kingdom

Middle East

North and Central America




United States

  • Airport Terminal Services (ATS)
  • Total Airport Services (TAS)
  • WFS Express

South America





See also


  1. ^ International Air Transport Association, Ground Handling, International Air Transport Association, archived from the original on 5 October 2013
  2. ^ Gomez, F; Scholz, D (2009), Improvements to ground handling operations and their benefits to direct operating costs (PDF), Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, archived from the original (PDF) on 28 October 2013
  3. ^ "The correlation between airline ground time and profits". AirInsight. May 8, 2017.
  4. ^ International Air Transport Association, Airport Handling Manual (AHM), International Air Transport Association, archived from the original on 18 October 2013
  5. ^ Wignall, Alec (27 November 2022). "How it works: the aircraft turnaround - AeroTime". Aerotime. Retrieved 28 December 2023.
  6. ^ "FBO, Ground Handling in Singapore (WSSL)". Universal Aviation. Retrieved 17 January 2020.
  7. ^ "Services assistance aéroport : Handling, assistance en escale - Samsic".
  8. ^ "London Heathrow, United Kingdom (LHR)".
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Cobalt Ground Solutions".
  11. ^ "GATWICK GROUND SERVICES LIMITED - Overview (free company information from Companies House)".
  12. ^ "Signature BHX | Fixed Base Operator (FBO) at Birmingham Airport".

Further reading

Media related to Aircraft ground handling at Wikimedia Commons