May has been a positive month on many levels. We’re seeing global air traffic gains being made as attested to by OAG’s list of the top busiest international airports in May 2023. We’re also learning more about passengers and what they want in customer service. Not surprisingly, digital options are among their requests. Finally, ground handling has new priorities as outlined by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) at the 35th IATA Ground Handling Conference (IGHC). For the industry, all of these developments and new insights are helping to drive aviation to a full recovery and improved performance.
IATA Reports on Increased Global Air Traffic
Based on figures released by IATA for March 2023, global air traffic is recording health growth across all markets. The association noted that global traffic for March reached 88% of March 2019 levels. Domestic traffic was reported to be fast approaching pre-pandemic levels at 98.9% of March 2019 levels. International traffic did not fare as well primarily due to border restrictions which are going through a gradual easing, Still, international has reached 81.6% of March 2019 levels. The increases in international traffic can be attributed largely to the resurgence of Asian-Pacific region carriers. Here’s how the carriers’ March 2023 performance in different regions stacked up:
- Asia-Pacific airlines recorded a 283.1% increase compared to March 2022 data.
- African airlines posted a 71.7% increase.
- U.S. airlines were up 51.6%.
- Middle Eastern airlines were up 43.1%.
- European airlines were up 38.5%.
- Latin American airlines were up 36.5%.
IATA Director General Willie Walsh noted that, “Domestic markets have been near pre-pandemic levels for months. And for international travel two key waypoints were topped. First, demand increased by 3.5 percentage points compared to the previous month’s growth, to reach 81.6% of pre-Covid levels.” Walsh cited the near-tripling of demand for Asia-Pacific airlines with China’s reopening as leading the way, as well as improved international load factors which reached 81.3%, and the high ticket sales activity underway with the Northern Hemisphere’s summer season upon us. He did, however, offer a word of caution related to meeting demand, adding that “a lack of capacity means that some of those travelers may be disappointed.”
OAG Announces May 2023’s Top Ten Busiest International Airports
With its release of the Top Ten Busiest International Airports in May 2023, OAG confirmed what some may have anticipated which is that the Middle East airports have been gaining in popularity. Securing the top berth was Dubai International Airport which moved up from 8th place in 2019 and had 4.7 million seats this month. Occupying the second rung was London Heathrow which dropped from 1st place in 2019 and had 4.0 million seats in May. The following list shows how the entire ten busiest international airports ranked and how that compared to their 2019 rankings:
- Dubai, 4.7 million seats up from 8th spot
- London Heathrow, 4.0 million seats down from 1st spot
- Amsterdam, 3.3 million seats holding the same 3rd place
- Paris Charles de Gaulle, 3.1 million seats holding the same 4th place
- Singapore Changi, 3.0 million seats up from 7th spot
- Istanbul, 2.9 million seats up from 9th spot
- Frankfurt, 2.9 million seats down from 6th spot
- Seoul Incheon, 2.8 million seats down from 5th spot
- Doha, 2.2 million seats up from 16th spot
- Madrid Adolfo Suarez-Barajas, 2.0 million seats up from 10th spot
Dubai and Doha, saw the biggest changes in their rankings compared to 2019, while Seoul Incheon added the most seats (i.e., 300,000 additional).
Air Travelers Prefer Customer Service Communications Options …Including Digital
A recent Teleperformance survey revealed many important findings regarding how air travelers want to communicate with the airlines. One clear take-away from the survey is that many travelers do want to be able to access mobile apps and social media engagements and want more flexibility in terms of the support they receive. This is especially true for the younger generations who rely on their mobile devices heavily for many things.
Teleperformance, a digital business service company, surveyed over 4,800 customers regarding their interactions with airlines using apps, texts, instant messaging, and social media. It found that almost 70% of their customers saw a change in their interactions with airlines from the pre-pandemic period with 23% indicating an increase in their interactions.
What was also revealed is that customers wanted more diverse options for contacting the airlines and had clear preferences. Voice-based and email communications were the most popular, but mobile apps came in third in terms of preferences. In fact, 20% of the survey respondents stated having used app-based airline services, and 16% cited using social media to communicate with an airline, particularly using Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram.
IATA Sets Three Ground Handling Priorities
At the 35th IATA Ground Handling Conference (IGHC) held in Abu Dhabi, the association presented three priorities for ground handling focused on workplace recruitment and retention, global standards, and digitalization. All of the priorities are intended to help ground handlers gain greater resiliency and long-term sustainability:
- Effective staff recruitment and retention,
- Consistent implementation of global standards, and
- Accelerating digitalization and automation.
Staff recruitment and retention
A recent IATA survey revealed that 37% of ground handling professionals anticipated staffing shortages to the end of 2023 and 60% said they didn’t have enough qualified staff to ensure smooth operations. The survey also found that 27% of respondents feared that many current employees would leave their posts soon.
IATA’s Director of Ground Operations Monika Mejstrikova said, “Creating a stable ground handling talent pool is essential. And it can be achieved by making ramp work more attractive. We need to embrace automation to relieve staff from difficult and hazardous tasks, foster a culture of continuous learning and career growth, and create a safe and inclusive environment for people where talents are nurtured.”
Among the initiatives IATA outlined to address labor shortages were:
- Implementation of competency-based training,
- Mutual recognition of security training and employee background records among authorities,
- Automation of processes to relieve staff from physically-challenging tasks, and
- Promoting carer developing
To support these objectives and benefit employees, IATA recently launched its Ground Ops Training Passport, which it envisions as an industry-wide approach to talent development which it believes would give significant benefits to all stakeholders.
Implementation of global standards
Two new tools to achieve consistent global standards introduced by the association were its IATA Ground Operations Manual (IGOM) and IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations (ISAGO). Over 140 airlines have already subscribed to IGOM’s user-friendly platform which facilitates sharing of ground handlers’ gap analysis between company procedures and IGOM to facilitate a benchmark to drive increased efficiency. IATA is urging governments to recognize ISAGO in their regulatory oversight frameworks.
Digitalization and automation
As for digitalization and automation, IATA outlined three prioritized areas: Ramp Digitalization, Load Control Digitalization, and GSE Automation. Added Mejstrikova, “Ground operations are complex, and delays are the bane of every turnaround coordinator’s existence. But with technology and communication advancements, we can avoid delays, make operations safer, more efficient, and more environmentally sustainable, while providing a better working experience for staff on the ramp.”
>> What do you think should the industry set as a priority for the upcoming months? Share with us in the comments below.