Handling an airplane: the basics

Hey there everyone!

I’m Michael, and I work on WAW airport in Poland. I started working in an airplane parts storage, moved to general handling [GPU, services, catering, deicing…] and now am an apron bus driver. I have been a handling employee for nearly ten years now. I’d love to provide any insight in how an airport and airport operations work from the ground perspective. I’m yet to get the game, so I’m curious how much of the ‘usual’ ground handling routine is and is planned to be in the final game. So let me quickly go over how it goes. Sorry in advance if my polish>english translation skills are lacking.

The airplane is on approach
The equipment needed for unloading the luggage is already waiting nearby the assigned stand, along with enough ramp workers (usually… understaffed operations are possible, but are slower). Depending on the de-boarding method, the passenger stairs are also waiting, with the buses either with them, or on their way. Depending on the turnaround time, the departure luggage (or even passengers in a bus; Ryanair usually does this) are also waiting near the stand.

The airplane lands
A Follow-Me vehicle usually guides the to it’s stand (always in low visibility conditions, or pilots that haven’t yet been to the airport). It’s guided onto it either by its driver, or by a display screen that helps the pilot park it properly.

Aircraft on stand
The first person to the plane is a ramp agent (RA) with blockers for the nose gear wheels. After that, most of the time the plane is plugged to a ground power unit (GPU; it can be a dragged unit, build it into stand, or attached to a jet-bridge). The engines turn off. RA places warning cones around the critical points of the plane - usually wingtips, nose and tail, engines intakes. Extra blockers are placed under main landing gear wheels. A walk around visual inspection is done. Only now the rest of the equipment is allowed to approach the plane.

Arrival handling
Stairs/jetbridge attached. The passengers leave the plane as the RA start unloading the luggage. Water/Toilet service cars empty and refill the appropriate tanks. If stairs are used, and there is a disabled passenger on board, a special lift is parked by one of the doors that hasn’t got stairs by it. The fuel truck parks under the wing. Refueling is not allowed until or passengers are off the plane, or an airport fire brigade truck is securing the tanking. In winter, on certain aircraft or ones with a malfunction, a mobile AC unit might be also plugged to the plane.

Passengers out
Refueling commences. If needed, catering is replaced. The crew changes if planned. The departure luggage is getting loaded as soon as the arrival one is gone.

Departure boarding
Either by bus/several buses/jetbridge the passengers are boarded. By now most of the handling is finishing/done (if time allows. It can continue just before the point the plane is moved off the stand). If required, a pushback vechicle attaches to the nose gear wheel (either using a tow bar, or actually sliding under the wheel itself). If the airplane requires it, an air starter unit is plugged [ASU].

Leaving the stand
After the last passenger boards, the stairs/jetbridge is dragged away from the plane. The wheel blockers are removed, along with the safety cones. Another walk around inspection is done to check for damages. The push back doesn’t start until everyone and all equipment is moved off the stand (except the RA on a headset with the cockpit; he walks with the plane until it’s ready to taxi off on its own). The engines start on idle [or are started by the ASU on the stand] as the plane leaves the stand.

Taxing off
Not much else the handling does here - unless it’s winter and the captain requests deicing. Also, the Follow Me vehicle will guide the plane in low visibility conditions.

So, that would be all in large simplification - there are a few smaller tasks that still need be done by RAs around the plane, like documentation, securing approach of equipment meant to touch the plane and so on. Also, each airline has their own guidelines and contracts, that specify what and when is to be prepared/done. This also doesn’t cover the check-in and baggage sorting, as I never really worked much there >.> Also didn’t go into services indirectly involved in handling, like pavement maintenance(also: snow removal) or security.

Anyways, I’m sure I might got something translated badly. Feel free to ask or inquire about anything and I’ll try to help to my best of knowledge.


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