Many airlinessubcontract 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. 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). Faster turnarounds for lower ground times are correlated to better profits.
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.
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. 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. 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:
Cabin Cleaning - Cleaning Seats, Galleys, and Lavatories. Resetting the cabin (Folding seatbelts, uniform seat and window shade position) to appear untouched.
Lavatory Service - Exterior service of lavatory by draining and filling of waste tanks.
Provisioning - Replacing literature, blankets, pillows, and consumable supplies.
Security Search - Searching aircraft for prohibited items as required by airline policy or regulatory requirement.
Water Service - Exterior service of aircraft water system by filling tank with potable water for use inflight.
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:
Providing check-in counter services for the passengers departing on the customer airlines.
Providing gate arrival and departure services. The agents are required to meet a flight on arrival as well as provide departure services including boarding passengers and closing the flight.
Staffing the transfer counters, customer service counters and airline lounges.
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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