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Ground services: all systems go Part 1/2

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The person with the overall responsibility for setting up SWISS ground services at San Francisco airport takes us behind the scenes.

We are a team of three persons with the overall responsibility for organising SWISS ground services worldwide. My area is intercontinental while my two colleagues capture Switzerland and the rest of Europe. A new destination like San Francisco encounters many aspects and starts with negotiating and finalising service agreements with local ground handling agents, who are in turn responsible for passenger services, ramp services, station management and supervision at the airport ensuring a safe operation with a performance based on the SWISS values.

San Francisco is an extraordinary destination not only for our customers but also one that we have long wanted to have in our route portfolio. It was formerly a Swissair destination, so it is very satisfying to be able to re-open it, especially for our Regional Manager Americas Marc Suhr, who was the first Swissair Station Manager and now he will re-open it for the second time! At present he is busily engaged in preparing the launch of the latest SWISS destination, San Francisco.

It is a pleasure to visit the refurbished SFO Airport, which is now ready for the future. The key benefits of this program for our passengers are the new International Terminal, the AirTrain operating between the terminals and the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station, allowing the customers to arrive in downtown San Francisco only 29 minutes! It is satisfying to set up the new station in San Francisco thanks to the professional environment. By contrast, setting up operations for a new destination in other countries would encounter more obstacles due to the lack of local infrastructure.

Opening any new destination involves solving some interesting challenges:
Which handling agent shall perform “Passenger Services, including Ticketing services, Check-in, Gate and Boarding services, Arrival services, Special Assistance, Lounges?” Which handling agent shall perform “Ramp Services including loading and unloading of baggage, mail and cargo, aircraft cleaning, toilet and water service?” There is usually a range of handling providers to choose from. The first step is inviting the handling agents to tender bids, followed by a discussion process with those that make the short list. As it turns out, our passenger services partner in San Francisco is Lufthansa. We have a contract with Lufthansa that enables synergies and save money for the LH group. The great advantage here is that we are working with people who have years of experience and well know the infrastructure and the location. But while contracting all these services, we still have to train the personnel who will serve our customers to ensure the SWISS special procedure and SWISS personal care are maintained.

The special feature in this particular case is the San Francisco Terminal Equipment Company, which maintains all of the airport systems used by airlines. Having one company in this role is a common practice at US airports. The airlines involved acquire a membership under this arrangement. This means that SWISS too is required to become a member. This San Francisco Terminal Equipment Company is responsible for maintaining the baggage handling system, passenger jetties and ground power systems that supply aircraft with electricity and drinking water, along with the entire check-in infrastructure.

Having one company oversee the various airport systems is a clear advantage, as it facilitates new airlines the entrance and guarantees good service. The other main benefit is that airlines share the related costs within the membership format.

Part 2 of this article