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Flight planning and servicing have many aspects. While preparing the aircraft, crew and flight plan are the most visible parts, ground handling is also vital for smooth operations. There are many different areas of ground serving and handling to consider and various ways to source these deepening on your operations and locations. Some areas can be resourced internally, while others can be better provided for when outsourced.


Aircraft handling and marshalling

When on the ground, some level of external aircraft assistance is usually needed. This will vary depending on the aircraft and the airport. It could just need signalling and marshalling to a stand, or it might require a tow, escort, and jetway handling.

Services such as these are often not noticed – until there is a problem. Strikes or lack of personnel can cause significant delays as many parts of this are essential even to be able to move an aircraft. Looking at the delays and disruption seen in many locations in early 2022 shows this well. Travel resumed quickly, but with ongoing staff shortages. Although this was blamed mainly on airlines, a lack of ground services was a major factor at many airports.

Aircraft also needed to be parked, and there are usually different options for this with varying locations and costs. For longer stays, transferring the aircraft to another location could be cost-effective.

Aircraft servicing, cleaning, and catering

Ground handling companies also provide services to help turn around an aircraft. Again, this can vary widely. A commercial aircraft may have a fixed but rapid turnaround requirement to clean, stock, and prepare it for another service. A private aircraft will need more specialised preparation for its next sector, or it may be leaving empty.

Cargo aircraft need extensive ground servicing as well. The selection of the right partner is essential here. Operators need to consider several factors, including cost, experience with similar operations and cargo types, hours of operation, and slot coordination. At many airports, there is a choice of service provider (don’t assume that the main one is the only choice) and researching this or partnering with the right ground handling provider is important.

Fuel supply and provision

Fuelling is, of course, one of the primary considerations in flight planning. Fuel prices vary significantly – especially when operating internationally. Operators need to be sure they can source the right fuel (especially if they need AVGAS rather than JET-A1) at the right price in any location they operate. It is important to consider the overall cost of fueling, taking into account fuel delivery costs and time.

Aviation Fuel services are a common area to outsource. Flightworx handles this and provides a network of over 100 fuel suppliers worldwide. Having options and contracts readily available like this saves time and money.

Aircraft maintenance

Ground handling includes services and maintenance checks. This could include regularly scheduled maintenance and unexpected work or repairs to aircraft. Again, this could be in any location.

Pilots will usually carry out visual inspections before the flight, but further work will require the use of airport ground services. Having contacts and a network in place to handle checks and possible work timely and cost-effectively is very important in this situation.

Passenger and crew ground services

It is not just the aircraft that needs to be taken care of at the airport – people do as well. At most airports, private and chartered flights can use an FBO (Fixed Base Operator). This is essentially a private terminal that could be managed by the airport or a third party. Many airports have a choice of FBO, and operators will need to select in advance which FBO to use based on price and services required.

FBOs can help facilitate many of the ground operations for passengers and crew. They can usually arrange local ground transportation, accommodation, or other services as required. They will also handle arriving passengers and have facilities for the crew to rest and prepare between flights. FBOs can also assist with aircraft handling, marshalling, and parking/storage. In short, they will be an important part of any private aircraft operation, and it is worth the time and investment to choose the right one.

Final Thoughts

There are many different areas to consider when providing ground services. Having options and provisions in place for your planned operations and unexpected events is very important. Much of this can be handled by dedicated service providers at airports, but it will still need to be sourced, managed, and negotiated. Having reliable, experienced, and well-connected ground service partners in place will help any operator control costs and smooth their operations.

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