Successfully Navigate Ground Handling at Unfamiliar Airports

Next to flight planning, successful ground handling is the most important aspect of any business aviation operation. Despite navigating the rigors of weather, traffic, fuel, customs, etc., no trip is a success until your passengers make it to their meeting or vacation. And while you have your trusted ground handling sources at airports you visit frequently, how do you handle those you don’t know well…or at all? Even when the level of airport familiarity has changes, the expectations on you don’t.
Here are a few thoughts that might help you approach ground handling at an unfamiliar airport.

  • Look for Ground Handler Ripple Effect—While you’re certainly going to want to make sure prospective ground handlers can deliver the obvious (ramp space, fuel, flight planning access, etc.), consider adding relationships to your must-have list. A great ground handler, which might also be more expensive, likely has built-in relationships with hotels, car services, security firms, caterers, and others. And, it’s a pretty safe bet that a quality ground handler has relationships with others of the same caliber. Taking time to find the right ground handler, who also has the right relationships, will save you time, build your confidence about traveling to the unfamiliar field, may simplify invoicing, and can make you look like a hero to your passengers.
  • Dig Deeper—These days, it’s too easy to create a great looking website, killer brochure or even sound good on the phone or through an email. In your haste to handle the countless details that accompany any trip, don’t be seduced by shiny marketing materials. If ground handler “ripple effect” (above) isn’t an option, take the time to dig deep. Can you visit the location ahead of the trip? Do you have trusted flight operations colleagues you can contact? Is there someone in your LinkedIn network that maybe you don’t know, but might contact? Would a simple Google search provide reviews or comments that you might not otherwise find? However you’re most comfortable, find a way to dig deeper. You probably don’t need to be reminded that you can flawlessly fly the most challenging trip of your career, only to have all your effort wasted when you pull up to an unprepared FBO.
  • Think Security and Safety—You know your security minimums. They may vary by passenger and airplane, but you know if you need to hangar your airplane, hire on-ramp security or perhaps enlist bodyguards or bulletproof ground transportation. But what about safety? You need to ferret out the gotchas that might be waiting at an unfamiliar field. They can range from questions like: Is the field fenced, or can animals walk on at any time? Does the ground handler use wing walkers and cones when moving and parking your airplane? Are they adept at actually removing everything labeled Remove Before Flight? Assume nothing when it comes to the security AND safety issues surrounding each trip.
  • Find a Better Field—On occasion, operators can fixate on a particular airfield because it’s the closest to the meeting, vacation, or the passenger requested it. However, when weighed against the requirements of the trip, the closest field isn’t always the best. Fuel availability may be unpredictable. Ramp security may be lax. The privacy of your passengers can’t be guaranteed. They may want cash upfront instead of invoicing you. There’s not a single ground handler you have confidence in. Instead of fixating on trying to solve the problems at that field, find another field that can deliver what you want. Most passengers, if they understand the situation, will accommodate changes to a field that delivers a better trip experience.
  • Know Pricing, Payment and Negotiation Options—Many ground-handling providers are willing to provide detailed invoices in a timely manner. Some will even compile the invoices from their preferred providers (catering, hotel, etc.) to keep billing simple and timely. And then there are others—those who want payment up front, aren’t set-up to invoice, want cash payments only, and/or can’t take a credit card. All handlers are not alike, and you need to know the payment terms up front. And, don’t be afraid to negotiate—even if they’re the only handler on your preferred field. They want your business and will be willing to work with you to ensure it. In some cultures, negotiation is even expected. And, don’t forget ask about the seeming hidden or unexplained mandatory fees that come with airport use. Too often, you don’t know about those until you receive your invoice. It doesn’t hurt to ask, but it can hurt if you don’t.
  • Know The Customs Procedures—We’ve addressed this in other posts. Here is a link to tips that will help you find more information on the customs habits of a particular field .

With relationships at over 12,000 airports around the world, Jeppesen’s International Trip Planning Service can help you manage the next trip to an unfamiliar airport. They can also handle the details at airfields you know like the back of your hand. They can put to work for you the bonds of relationships built over decades and the buying power that comes through helping numerous business aviation operators each day. Simply email or call (800) 553-7750.

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