‘Who will unload the ventilators when we are gone?’

‘Who will unload the ventilators when we are gone?’

Max Gosney, Conference Chairman, Ground Handling International

Imagine the scene. A hastily converted A330 packed with desperately needed ventilators for coronavirus patients touches down and taxis into the parking bay. The pilot powers down, puts on the parking brake and waits. And waits and waits and waits. But, no friendly face in a hi-vis is coming to greet them today: the expert handling team have been furloughed or laid off weeks ago. Without dedicated government aid, as received by airlines, their employers were in an invidious and impossible position.

So, the ventilators remain incarcerated in the cargo hold along with the face masks and other critical medical aid. Lives will be lost as a result of the delay to offloading and customs clearance. Doctors and nurses forced to tell another family of a loved one lost. It doesn’t have to happen like this.

There’s still time to save the vital, yet relatively anonymous, ground handling sector that is so important to safe and efficient air transport. To do it, the industry will need the same kind of dedicated financial relief from governments that is being made available to other aviation stakeholders.

The Trump Administration’s $58 billion dedicated aviation relief fund under the CARE Act last week is a shining example. The deal makes provision for airline contractors (ground handlers) and cargo operators alongside passenger airlines.

Whether President Trump has pledged enough to these groups is secondary – this is watershed moment for ground handlers and others who’ve earned their rightful berth in the first team. The US aviation relief package must now become the template for governments across the world.

Survival is also down to those in the ground handling community being more proactive in lobbying our politicians. We will be masters of our own downfall by sitting on our hands and complaining that ground handlers always get forgotten about: a common lament.

The time has come to stand up and be counted: to shout loud and proud about our crucial importance to safe and efficient air transport. Aircraft can’t get to where they are needed without us.  Safety can’t be underestimated: handlers are responsible for load planning, dangerous goods and ensuring the plan is followed with the positioning of every ULD/pallet before a flight can depart.

In the UK, supermarket workers are rightly being reevaluated as ‘key workers’ and earning the kudos that title brings. Once anonymous check out agents are now revered as invaluable assets in our national efforts to combat coronavirus pandemic and keep society functioning. Ground handling teams must seize their place in the same prestige bracket. It’s time to step up our PR like the supermarkets and to champion the vital role every pushback driver, load controller and despatcher plays in ensuring we vanquish this awful virus.

A joint letter from Swissport, dnata, Menzies, WFS was sent to the UK government this week and warned that airports could grind to a halt for four months if these companies and others didn’t receive comprehensive fiscal aid. You hope it resonates at Westminster and seats of power across the world. Lives will be lost if we are ignored and our highly skilled community is allowed to simply decay or disappear completely.

We must stand proud, together and resolute in telling the world about the seismic importance of frontline aviation teams in performing a turnaround on the pandemic.

Email me at: max@groundhandling.com