Aerodrome and Ground Handling Staff Skills and Knowledge

John FRANKLIN • 6 October 2020
in community Air Operations

This is a sub-article on the Safety Issue of "Skills and Knowledge Degradation" that specifically addresses the aerodrome operations and ground handling community. 

Some of the aerodrome specific challenges

The outbreak of COVID-19 and limitations imposed by individual EASA Member States have resulted in widespread suspension of flights, forcing aerodromes across Europe to scale down or suspend their operations until flights resume again. In lieu of this, a significant number of aerodrome operations staff ranging from rescue and firefighting personnel, wildlife control personnel, movement area inspectors, to follow-me drivers have been made redundant or furloughed. Furthermore, many aerodromes were compelled to change operational procedures and the use of airside infrastructure in order to adapt to the new operational reality during the shutdown period. For example, runways and taxiways were used and are still currently being used for the long-term parking of aircraft. The challenges faced by this domain is exacerbated by the lack of available staff resulted in incomplete mandatory trainings and proficiency checks.

As traffic picks up gradually and staff start to return to work, it is necessary to ensure that staff have maintained the skills required to execute their duties. In addition, staff have to be trained in the new procedures and complete the required proficiency checks. However, the lack of competent instructors and assessors creates an additional challenge for the aerodrome operators during this phase.

For ground handling staff, they are beset with additional challenges which includes weaker job security, less structured training and seasonal demand. During the shutdown period, many ground handling staff were furloughed or put on long-term leave. In some EASA Member States, ground handling staff were laid off in large numbers.

With the upcoming summer operations, many ground handling companies are looking to reinstate ground handling staff in large numbers to cope with the expected increase in demand. In addition to ensuring that current staff have maintained their skills to cope existing procedures, ground handling organisations to have to quickly train new hires who may have prior knowledge in ground handling procedures or are completely new to the industry. The varying levels of knowledge of existing staff and new hires may pose a difficulty in ensuring that all staff are trained to a certain degree.

The introduction of new procedures at aerodromes to cope with the health measures imposed by local authorities also adds an additional layer of complexity in training ground handling staff as they have to understand the differences in the previous measures vis-à-vis the new measures.

Proposed best practices and examples to mitigate proficiency decay

The EASA-led Task Team comprising safety experts from the aerodrome and ground handling domain have proposed the following best practices which you can consider to address proficiency decay and lack of recent experience within your organisation.

These best practices may not be applicable to all organisations, thus it is important to take your organisation’s nature of operations and key challenges into account when considering which best practices to adopt.

The experts have also developed practical examples to illustrate how the best practices can be implemented in real-life situations.

Best Practice


  1. Check that all staff have attended updated recurrent courses, which includes new health and safety measures or changes in operations.


Effective cooperation between the Training Department and the Human Resource Department is essential. The Training Manager has to check that every personnel returning to work is compliant with all the mandatory and recurrent courses and they have to be done before returning to work


Due to COVID-19, many new health and safety measures have been implemented to protect airport operations personnel from potential transmission of viruses. Thus, it is important to ensure that personnel are kept updated of these new requirements.  An example where a procedure has changed to integrate new health and safety measure is the operational procedure to move a passenger who requires Wheelchair Carry (WCHC) assistance on board an aircraft. This procedure now requires the use of a protective overalls as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). To implement this new procedure effectively, the airport operator should provide specific instructions on the following to their airport operations personnel:

    1. When the overalls must be donned
    2. When it must be changed
    3. Where it should be disposed of after use


  1. Create a buddy system to pair more experienced personnel who have been working during the shutdown with personnel who have just returned to operations for the first few days of work.


After the mandatory and recurrent courses, the personnel returning to work should undergo an On-the-Job-Training (OJT) period in the first few days of work. This allows the trainer or more an experienced colleague to verify if his first few tasks are conducted in a compliant and satisfactory manner. A few examples for illustration:

  • A push-back operator should execute the first manoeuvres with a trainer next to him.
  • A weight and balance operator should have his first few load sheets checked by a trainer.
  • A follow-me operator should be supervised by an expert colleague during the first marshalling.

In the interest of the health of all personnel, all the OJT must be done in accordance with the prevailing health and safety measures within the EASA Member State. For example in Italy, personnel are required to maintain a distance of 1 meter during OJT. If it is not possible to maintain the distance, both personnel are required to wear a FFP2 type protective mask.


  1. Introduce mandatory pre-shift briefings to update personnel of recent and on-going changes.


It is important to define a member of staff within the organisation who is responsible for the pre-briefing. In general this position could be covered by the “Shift Manager”, who then becomes responsible for updating the personnel on the on-going changes. To conduct the pre-shift briefings in an effective manner, the “Shift Manager” should create a check-list with the list of the operational changes to be communicated. It is recommended that the personnel sign a document after the briefing to instil a sense of responsibility for the new changes.


  1. For Aerodrome Operators, ensure the implementation of proficiency checks to verify the competence of the operators. Ground Handling Agents can also consider implementing such proficiency checks.

The aim of the proficiency check is to verify that all the skills and duties of the personnel have been internalised. The proficiency checks could be performed by the assessors (experts on the specific job) to verify the compliance with procedures, instructions and rules. It is recommended that the assessor uses a check-list which focuses on the skills and items that need to be checked after a prolonged period of not working.


In case of non-compliance, the personnel should be re-trained or updated again. It is important that the proficiency checks are conducted during the operations and comprise a visual check of the personnel’s activities.


  1. For Aerodrome Operators, ensure the implementation of internal audits to verify that the correct procedures have been implemented and respected by staff. Ground Handling Agents can also consider implementing such internal audits.


The internal audit should verify the overall implementation of the process, in addition to the competence of the personnel. The implementation of internal audits is important to check if the process is well implemented or if there are some shortcomings in the flow of activities.


During the internal audits, it is also important to consider the following: safety culture, adherence with health and safety measures and health and safety aspects in general. It is important to verify that the coexistence of safety and health and safety aspects are compatible.


  1. Identify reference point personnel who provide peer-to-peer support in answering work-related questions during the shifts.


As indicated in best practice number 3, it is important to define which figure, within the organisation, is responsible for providing the peer-to-peer support in answering work-related questions during the shifts.


We suggest that the “Shift Manager” would be a suitable candidate as a reference point for personnel. This figure should be on shift and easily contactable in case of need. For example, if a ramp agent does not remember a specific company procedure for boarding, the Shift Manager should be reachable by phone or by radio to suggest the updated boarding procedure with COVID-19 restrictions.



Additional reference and material



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