The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) published the first proposal to regulate ground handling across European Union airports, to increase the safety, cybersecurity and consistency of all the actions that happen on the ground before and after a flight, delivering benefits to passengers and their airlines.

This opinion, for the first time, proposes a regulation that will affect approximately 300,000 workers in the ground handling industry, one of the largest groups of aviation employees. The regulation will also ensure that ground handling is covered by Regulation (EU) 2022/1645 on cybersecurity.

Ground handling encompasses any activity that occurs on the ground to prepare an aircraft and its passengers for departure or arrival. This includes: aircraft loading and unloading with cargo, mail and baggage; passenger boarding and disembarkation; de-icing and anti-icing; refuelling; and securing the aircraft on the ground during turnaround, pushback and towing.

Until now, this area of aviation has been largely self-regulated. In most cases, operational arrangements, including those impacting safety, are captured only in bilateral service agreements between ground handling service providers and the aircraft operators to whom they provide services.

“Aviation safety starts on the ground. This entirely new proposal fills an important gap in the overall regulation of aviation operations in the European Union, which means that we will now have an end-to-end approach to ensuring aviation safety and cybersecurity,” said EASA Acting Executive Director Luc Tytgat. “For passengers and their airlines this will provide increased certainty that ground handling operations are being carried out safely and consistently in all major airports across the EASA Member States.”

The opinion proposes an efficient approach on the oversight of ground handling organisations by competent authorities. This is expected to avoid multiple verifications of the same activities and organisational aspects and gradually reduce the significant number of audits performed mostly by aircraft operators. This way, organisations should be able to better allocate their resources from auditing to managing the safety of their operations. As now, aircraft operators will retain overall responsibility for aircraft safety and flight safety.

“Today, a large ground handling organisation operating at 100 stations may be subject to over 600 audits from external stakeholders in a year, entailing almost 5,000 hours of work,” Tytgat said. “In future, air operators will be able to rely on the results of oversight performed only once by the competent authority and reduce their own audits only to the necessary additional aspects. This will reduce costs and free up resources to focus on more critical operations.”

The ground handling Regulation is expected to be published in late 2024 or early 2025. The opinion proposes a transition period of three years for implementation after the publication of the Regulation.

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