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Ground reality

Airline ground duty staff help passengers check-in, get their baggage checked and also coordinate with air traffic control reports Vimal Chander Joshi.

education Updated: Jul 07, 2010 10:42 IST
Vimal Chander Joshi

After passing out of school, Maria Paul wanted to immediately start earning for her family as she continued her studies. There are very few industries that offer employment opportunities to young girls such as Paul. Aviation is one of them. After undertaking a one year’s programme at a private air hostess academy, she got a job as a ground duty staff with an international carrier. Paul says she enjoys her job a lot and one of the reasons is that she gets to escort VVIPs, who are frequent fliers with the airline. “We ensure that the passenger experiences a smooth check-in and departure. Through our hospitality, we make them feel comfortable and also try our best for their speedy immigration checks,” she says.

Paul, a customer service agent, works in the commercial division of ground duty operations of a major airline. The other two divisions involve security and ramp safety. Those who are commissioned security duties carry out the baggage checks, while the ramp duty division ensures alignment between the number of passengers and seats on the flight. They coordinate with the Air Traffic Control (ATC) staff to find out the time of arrival and departure of flights. They are also responsible for finding out which bay the flight will land.

The new terminal
With the opening of Terminal 3 on July 3, the Delhi airport is set to become the fifth largest airport in the world. The expansion will mean that hundreds of new ground handling staff will be required. “Some of the staff will be hired by Air India while the rest will be hired by other agencies. All put together, this should make the number 500,” says Chandra Kumar Sekhar, spokesperson, Air India.

When London’s Heathrow Airport opened its ultra-modern Terminal 5, the ground staff was unfamiliar with its functioning, which in turn caused a lot of confusion. However, at the Indira Gandhi International airport, no such problem is expected. “We have been taken to the Terminal 3 to help us get familiar with it,” adds Paul.

Love for the job
Chandni Puri always wanted to work as a ground duty staff and not as an airhostess. “I wanted to work on the ground right from the beginning. I work straight eight-hour shifts, whereas an air hostess may be called to go anywhere anytime, regardless of the hours she has already put in that day,” says Puri, who has spent three years in the industry.

Though any school passout is eligible to work as ground duty staff, graduation makes your path to growth easier.

To sustain growth in this job, one must be ready to work in night shifts.

The only disconcerting element in this job is low salary in the beginning of one’s career. Associates or agents (as they are known in the industry) earn around Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000, and the figure goes up with time and experience.

“As of now, I am meant to check passports and issue boarding passes. I enjoy my current job. Else, I wouldn’t have left my previous job in the BPO industry as a voice and accent trainer,” says Nupur Agnihotri, assistant supervisor, grade two, at an international airline. She aspires to become a flight controller, a rank at which ground staff manages the entire flight, in three years.

What’s it about?
Ground duty agents are professionals employed by airline companies or private agencies who are involved at various levels of pre-departure or post-arrival activities. These include issuing boarding passes, checking baggage and maintaining records of passengers aboard the flight

Clock Work
Staff working in the commercial department has this kind of schedule:
11 pm: Reach airport
11.30 pm: Check the status of passengers and find out if any wheel-chair-bound passengers or infants are on the manifest and then ensure all special provisions
are made
1.30 am: As passengers trickle in, check air tickets and identity proof before issuing boarding pass
3 am: Make a record of seats left vacant on the basis of boarding passes issued
4.30 am: When a flight lands, make a record of passengers who have de-boarded

The Payoff
Initially you start as trainee or an assistant supervisor Grade II where your monthly salary is between Rs 12,000 and Rs 15,000. With time and experience, that figure goes up. As you climb the hierarchy to the rank of flight controller, the salary can be in the region of Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000 per month.

At the position of duty officer or duty manager, the salary rises further. An airport manager is the top boss who can earn between Rs 70,000 and Rs 75,000

Skills
. Good communication skills since you have to deal with all type of passengers. You must be a soft-spoken person
. Patience levels should be very high. Passengers might lose their temper on occasions
. One should be ready to work in shifts
. Leadership skills come handy after a few years in the job, especially when you have others reporting to you

How do I get there?
After 10+2, you can go in for a one-year course at a good flight school, where you are taught communication and grooming skills. Reputed academies also facilitate placements. Though graduation is not mandatory, it's advisable to get a graduation degree in order to grow faster. Some international airlines hire only graduates. You can also get in touch with handling agencies, which help you find jobs.

Institutes & urls
. One-year programme in aviation, hospitality and travel management from Frankfinn Institute of Air Hostess Training, located in the different parts of India
www.frankfinn.com
. One-year course in airhostess training and ground handling from Flying Cats
www.flying-cats.com, Delhi and Chandigarh

Pros & Cons


.

You don’t need to be highly qualified to make a career as ground handler. You could get started right after your 10+2


.

A glamorous life in which you get to interact with the crème de la crème, especially in case of international airlines where rich and powerful are frequent fliers


.

You get free tickets from the airline you work for. You only have to pay the incumbent taxes


.

In case you get bored of the job, you have an option to move to the hospitality sector where experience at an airport is given consideration


.

Career span is normally short and growth is slow

Boarding pass

An industry analyst talks about the opportunities and the growth prospects

Are there good career opportunities for ground duty staff at airports?
Normally people look for opportunities in the more glamourous side of aviation industry — pilots and air hostesses. But there are other opportunities such as ground handling and even more for air traffic controllers.

What kind of growth opportunities are there for these non-flying staffers?
The entire aviation industry in India and elsewhere is fairly standardised. Once you work in any local airline, you become equipped to work in other international airlines anywhere in the world. Recently, I went to Qatar and the majority of the staff working there was Indian and had worked for Indian carriers in the past.

Can ground duty staff grow to become airport managers in the future?
Yes, why not. Hari Marar, who is now Bangalore Airport’s director operations, has worked on the ground duty with Jet Airways.

What about the overall aviation industry in India? Earlier it was speculated to grow fast, but things are not as promising as earlier anticipated after the ‘Open Sky’ policy?
Around the world, the growth of aviation industry is directly proportional to the gross domestic product (GDP). It is always two to two-and-a-half times the size of the GDP. If we expect the GDP to grow at 8.5 per cent, then the aviation industry will grow at 16-20 per cent.

What is the current scenario? Is there a considerable demand of ground duty staff at airports?
New recruitments depend on the expansion of airlines. If an airline adds new aircrafts or expands its operations, it needs manpower on the ground. At present, Spice Jet is expanding and Indigo is adding aircraft.

Devesh Agarwal Interviewed by Vimal Chander Joshi