Aircraft Ground Handling Online Guide. Can you handle it?

The most interesting website about the world of aircraft ground handling.

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Icelandair Boeing 757 being serviced at Oslo-Gardermoen Airport

Icelandair Boeing 757 being serviced
at Oslo-Gardermoen Airport

Aircraft Ground Handling


In aviation, aircraft ground handling is the servicing of an aircraft while it is on the ground and parked at a terminal gate or at a parking spot/stand of an airport. Many airlines currently operating across the whole world subcontract ground handling to an airport or a handling agent, or even to another airline. Ground handling addresses the many service requirements of an aircraft between the time that aircraft arrives at a terminal gate/stand and the time it departs on its next flight. Speed, efficiency and punctuality 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/stand) but the most important aspect of aircraft ground handling, for sure is safety.
All air carriers have two basic sets of ground times that are applicable to their operations:

  • scheduled transit/turnaround times

  • minimum transit/turnaround times

These times are designed to meet operational requirements and are dependent upon a number of factors, however it should be clearly understood that when establishing ground times there should be no compromise to safety. The determination of aircraft ground times will require the establishment of a "critical path". The critical path is that activity or combination of direct dependent activities that take the greatest time to complete. In most instances the critical path will consist of the passenger and aircraft cabin activities, i.e. passenger disembarkation, cabin cleaning and passenger embarkation. There are circumstances when the fueling operation may become the "critical path", e.g. due to fuel load or the capacity of the fueling system. Other activities, such as unloading, loading and aircraft servicing can normally be performed without an impact on or from the "critical path" activities. A "time line" that shows the time necessary to perform all the activities and processes in the handling of an aircraft should be developed. These activities/processes should consider:

  • availability of resources

  • technical capabilities

  • facility capacity

  • amount and type of load, bulk or containerized

  • time personnel need to perform the required tasks

  • working conditions, weather etc.

  • catering requirements

  • cleaning requirements

  • fueling requirements

  • maintenance requirements

  • fleet utilization

  • airport/ATC slots

  • quality of service

Northwest Airlines Boeing 757 being offloaded at Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport
Northwest Airlines Boeing 757 being offloaded
at Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport

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:

Ground administration and supervision

  • representation and liaison services with local authorities or any other entity, disbursements on behalf of the airport user and provision of office space for its representatives
  • load control, messaging and telecommunications
  • handling, storage and administration of unit load devices
  • any other supervision services before, during or after the flight and any other administrative service requested by the airport user

Passenger handling

Passenger handling comprises any kind of assistance to arriving, departing, transfer or transit passengers, including checking tickets and travel documents, registering baggage and carrying it to the sorting area.

Baggage handling

Baggage handling comprises handling baggage in the sorting area, sorting it, preparing it for departure, loading it on to and unloading it from the devices designed to move it from the aircraft to the sorting area and vice versa, as well as transporting baggage from the sorting area to the reclaim area.

Freight / Cargo and mail handling 

  • for freight: physical handling of export, transfer and import freight, handling of related documents, customs procedures and implementation of any security procedure agreed between the parties or required by the circumstances
  • for mail: physical handling of incoming and outgoing mail, handling of related documents and implementation of any security procedure agreed between the parties or required by the circumstances

Ramp handling

  • marshaling the aircraft on the ground at arrival and departure
  • assistance to aircraft parking and provision of suitable devices
  • communication between the aircraft and the air-side supplier of services
  • the loading and unloading of the aircraft, including the provision and operation of suitable means, as well as the transport of crew and passengers between the aircraft and the terminal, and baggage transport between the aircraft and the terminal
  • the provision and operation of appropriate units for engine starting
  • the moving of the aircraft at arrival and departure, as well as the provision and operation of suitable devices
  • the transport, loading on to and unloading from the aircraft of food and beverages
Towing of a British Airways Boeing 747 at London-Heathrow Airport

Towing of a British Airways Boeing 747
at London-Heathrow Airport

Aircraft services

  • the external and internal cleaning of the aircraft, and the toilet and water services
  • the cooling and heating of the cabin, the removal of snow and ice, the deicing of the aircraft
  • the rearrangement of the cabin with suitable cabin equipment, the storage of this equipment

Fuel and oil handling

  • the organization and execution of fueling and defueling operations, including the storage of fuel and the control of the quality and quantity of fuel deliveries
  • the replenishing of oil and other fluids

Aircraft maintenance

  • routine services performed before flight
  • non-routine services requested by the airport user
  • the provision and administration of spare parts and suitable equipment
  • the request for or reservation of a suitable parking and/or hangar space 

Flight operations and crew administration

  • preparation of the flight at the departure airport or at any other point
  • in-flight assistance, including re-dispatching if needed
  • post-flight activities
  • crew administration

Surface transport

  • the organization and execution of crew, passenger, baggage, freight and mail transport between different terminals of the same airport, but excluding the same transport between the aircraft and any other point within the perimeter of the same airport
  • any special transport requested by the airport user

Catering services

  • liaison with suppliers and administrative management
  • storage of food and beverages and of the equipment needed for their preparation
  • cleaning of this equipment
  • preparation and delivery of equipment as well as of bar and food supplies

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