International Ground Handling Conference – What You Missed

Now in it’s 31st year, the IATA International Ground Handling Conference sees delegates from all aspects of the aviation industry come together with the view of changing the way we travel for the better. Whether its offering improved training programmes for ground staff or showcasing the latest in technology, you can be sure to find it here.

This year the 2018 conference was being hosted in Doha, Qatar from 22-25 April at the Sheraton Grand Doha Resort & Convention Hotel. Hosts and Principal Sponsors, Qatar Airways and Qatar Aviation Services (QAS) welcomed over 700 delegates from all over the world to join them. This year was the first time ever that the event had been held in the Middle East, so the hosts were eager to make a lasting impression.

As one of the part of the media team invited by Qatar Airways, I flew out on one of their Boeing 787 aircraft which you can read all about here.

Although the IGHC has now ended, we’re putting this article together to give you the opportunity to experience what it is like for members of the media to experience one of this years most prestigious aviation events!



The venue:

The morning started with a minibus ride through Doha’s Financial District. Signage welcoming delegates to Doha for the 2018 IGHC were dwarfed by the modern and impressive looking buildings that stood along the streets that guided us to the Sheraton Interchange.

The Sheraton is regarded as a local landmark in the city of Doha. This distinct pyramid shaped building has stood on the West Bay overlooking the Arabian Gulf since it opened in 1979. As the countries economy began to boom and the city of Doha rose up from the desert, the hotel underwent a refurbishment to maintain it’s appealing Arabic charm and to offer guests modern facilities and a luxury 5* experience.

A welcome to delegates from all over the world

With such an iconic landmark being perfect to showcase to the world how far Qatar has come over the years, it is no wonder that the Sheraton was chosen as the host venue.

The Opening Ceremony:

The foyer of the main conference hall was lined with stands from all of the major players in the ground handling industry. Representatives would all be hoping that they can make progress towards securing major contracts with potential business clients. Throughout the week there would be seminars hosted giving reps the stage to present how their new and innovative methods would improve ground handling.

The Al Dafna Hall played host to the opening ceremony

Before any of this could occur, the opening ceremony had to take place. The Al Dafna Hall was made up immaculately of white tables and chairs. Taking our seats we eagerly awaited the VIPs who would be sat on the front row to arrive. With the room standing for the Qatari National Anthem, that was our signal that the 31st IATA International Ground Handling Conference had begun.

Joseph Suidan, Head of Ground Operations for IATA took to the stand to welcome everyone to Doha and to express his ambition for everyone to come together to change the industry for the better. Joseph took this opportunity to pay thanks to Qatar Airways and Qatar Aviation Services for hosting everyone who was in attendance.

After Joseph’s brief welcome to the room, a video detailing the history of Qatar Airways right up to it’s 20th Anniversary was shown. After a round of applause it was time for the man who made it all possible for Qatar to take the stand, His Excellency Mr Akbar Al Baker.

Mr Al Baker is the Group Chief Executive Officer for Qatar Airways, and it is no secret that he has been instrumental in leading the airline to the point where it is now. Stepping up to the podium, he paid homage to his nation for being able to persevere and continue to stride forward despite the current blockade against his country.

His Excellency Mr Al Baker addresses the room

With Qatar Airways being the operator of Hamad International Airport, it was only right that Mr Al Baker should praise it by addressing it as “one of the most technologically advanced and sleek international hubs anywhere in the world”. In charge of ground staffing and operations at Hamad Is Qatar Aviation Services. IGHC 2018 was the first time that QAS had been showcased to the world at a major aviation event since they were established in 2000. It was fair to say the there was high hopes that they would leave a good impression on the right people.

As Mr Al Baker continued with his speech, I couldn’t help but get the impression that the event so far had been a showcase of Qatar Airways demonstrating their superiority. It was clear that a strong statement protesting the ‘illegal blockade’ of Qatar from the rest of the Middle East was being made. It was a clear demonstration that both the airline and the country can adapt and overcome any obstacles thrown at them. They truly are “A Nation Defiant”.

As His Excellency finished on stage, Nick Careen the Senior Vice President for Airport, Passenger, Cargo and Security at IATA traded places. Despite openly admitting it wasn’t quite his forte, he was going to provide the delegates with an economic update on the industry.

He began by immediately highlighting that “rising costs are the biggest challenge to aviation” and that “salaries are the biggest cost”. Whilst oil costs play a major factor in determining whether an airline makes a profit or a loss, Mr Careen did provide some good news by stating that “oil prices are expected to ease bar any geopolitical issues”.

Mr Nick Careen providing an economic update

IATA predicts the demand for air travel to double over the next 20 years. With 4.1 billion passengers being flown on 41.8 million flights in 2017 alone, it is clear to see that any headway that can be made with improving the passenger journey and streamlining ground handling tasks will certainly be welcome over the next few years.

As Nick Careen stepped down from the stage, another round of applause went around. Delegates made their way into the foyer and members of the media made their way down the corridor to take part in the press conference.

The Press Conference:

Gathered into a room much smaller than the Al Dafna Hall, members of the local and international media took their positions in preparation for the arrival of the 4 person press panel. Together they consisted of:

  • Mr Nick Careen, Senior Vice President for Airport, Passenger, Cargo and Security, IATA
  • His Excellency Mr Al Baker, Group Chief Executive, Qatar Airways
  • Eng. Badr Mohammed A Al Meer, Chief Operating Officer, Hamad International Airport
  • Mr Murat Nursel, Senior Vice President, Qatar Aviation Services
Awaiting the 4 person panel to arrive

As the introductions were made, the floor was opened up for the media to get answers to their questions.

Q: Is it expected that Qatar Airways will post a large loss because of the current political situation?

A: Yes it will be a large loss, announced hopefully by June. Though we (Qatar Airways) are expecting a loss, we will keep expanding our network – Mr Al Baker.

Q: Do you have a response to the allegations of illegal working conditions at Hamad International Airport?

A: The inspection wasn’t co-ordinated with the airport. We did not have time to prepare and these accusations are false. We don’t have any labour camps – Mr Al Meer.

These accusations could have been planted by our (political) adversaries to portray a negative picture – Mr Al Baker.

Mr Al Baker responding to accusations of illegal conditions at Hamad International Airport

Q:  Are Qatar Aviation Services looking to expand to other airports?

A:  It has not been confirmed but has has been identified as a potential expansion. QAS will introduce their own systems to airports. Yes there will be other handlers/companies that pose a challenge. We will ensure that our high standards are met. We do not want to go global, only to airports (Milan Malpensa and London Heathrow were mentioned) where we feel our standards are not met – Mr Al Baker

Q: Have you got any more details on the third stage expansion at Hamad International Airport?

A: I would not like to make any comments. We do not divulge any information except via official communications. I can confirm however it will be expanded before Qatar 2022 (World Cup) – Mr Al Baker.

With that the press conference was bought to a close and so was the opening morning. As delegates and officials broke for lunch, everyone in the building was certainly hoping that they could establish effective working relationships with new clients to together Improve ground handling services around the world.

Hosted for the first time ever in the Middle East
ANALYSIS:

With Qatar Airways being one of the joint hosts and principal partners, It was only natural to expect a strong show from them. I couldn’t help but get the feeling though that a lot of it was a show of strength from the nation of Qatar to send a message of defiance to their neighbouring countries. The products and services on show certainly have the potential to improve the passenger journey if they were deployed correctly, only time will tell if this will be the case.

 

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