Approximately 10 % of the EU population lives with some type of disability. In order to enable equal access to air transport services, the EU introduced a regulation in 2006 that strengthens the right of people with reduced mobility (PRM) when travelling by air. The provision of assistance at airports is the main aspects of the regulation. As passenger numbers continue to grow, PRM service providers also face a growth of PRM passengers in need of assistance. But how do service providers prepare for such future developments?
INFORM spoke with Nathalie von Bomhard, Senior Manager IT at FraCareServices GmbH, about their current PRM operations, the challenges they are facing and which technologies they have implemented to optimize their PRM operations.
Please give us a brief overview of FraCareServices GmbH.
Back in 2008, we founded a subsidiary as a joint venture between Fraport AG (51%) and Deutsche Lufthansa AG (49%) to fulfill the requirements of the EU regulation introduced in 2006 (EC 1107/2006). This law strengthens the legal protections of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility (PRM), and came into effect on July 27, 2008. The company FraCareServices GmbH resulted from this. Since Lufthansa had already provided assistance to these passengers on behalf of many airlines beforehand, synergies resulted with regard to employees, systems, technology, hardware, and expertise. We united these abilities with the Fraport world and now currently provide assistance as FraCareS to 700,000 passengers, with growth of 10-15% annually, carried out by around 750 employees. Furthermore, we also offer a fee-based service in the event that airlines want a premium package or provide care for unaccompanied minors (UM). These services are grouped in our non-PRM packages. In contrast to our PRM assistance service, which is financed by all passengers that use the airport via a legally stipulated flat fee, non-PRM services are billed per passenger.
What specific challenges does your PRM assistance service at Frankfurt Airport face? How do you deal with these challenges?
Frankfurt Airport’s infrastructure presents a particular challenge. If you picture the airport in your mind, it’s shaped like two stars. This design was an outstanding achievement at the time, since it made it relatively easy to operate the eight gates of each star in Concourse B back then. As time passed, this small number of gates wasn’t sufficient to process the growing number of passengers, meaning that long hallways needed to be added in order to offer additional gates. As construction activities have been severely restricted since 2001, a second level was added to the airport. This made it possible to additionally separate arriving and departing passengers by destination, into international and “Schengen Countries.” As a result, the particular challenges posed by the airport’s complex infrastructure today lie not only in the longer distance that employees and passengers need to cover, but also in the airport’s multi-level layout.
Besides that, passing through a check point, like a security check point, poses an obstacle. This is because it isn’t just the passengers that need to pass through the security check point, but also the employees accompanying them to their plane. During peak hours, we also work with external service providers whose sole job is to accompany passengers from one side of the security checkpoint to the other. This allows us to adhere to the stringent security requirements and use our employees more efficiently.
On top of this, as the overall number of passengers increases, so too do the number of PRM passengers. We need to pay particular attention to aircraft that have up to 130 passengers requiring assistance on the flight passenger list. We use dedicated teams to care for such a large number of passengers. In addition, we operate a shuttle system in all areas of the airport to efficiently travel very long distances. Furthermore, each of the 200 airlines has its own idea of how to provide assistance services. In light of this complexity, the systems from INFORM helps us not only when it comes to efficiently planning and managing our resources in real time, but also when it comes to implementing individual assistance services and continuous documentation within one system.
Are there any legal or operational changes that had a major impact on your company?
The EU regulation passed in 2006 triggered the founding of FraCareServices GmbH. In addition to the legal obligation to provide assistance services, the increasing number of passengers is the reason behind our ability to hire a relatively large number of new employees (100 - 200 new employees each year), especially since assisting passengers is usually very time consuming.
In addition, the different underlying conditions at Europe’s airports have a major effect on how the respective assistance services are designed. For example, the infrastructure alone from airport to airport can lead to different price calculations. Passengers may be able to be assisted more quickly, which requires fewer personnel. While at some airports, larger buses can be used.
Which technologies have you recently invested in? How did they enhance your assistance services’ workflow?
Back when airlines provided assistance themselves, Lufthansa documented everything on paper. At that time, student assistants added the information from the enormous amount of paper coming back to us into our system. This didn’t allow us to record timestamps and we didn’t document each intermediate step. When the EU regulation entered into effect in 2008, we were required to seamlessly document all processes, which was only possible by introducing a mobile solution. Providing assistance to what now totals 3,000 passengers a day would never have been possible using a paper-based system of documentation.
As such, since 2005 we have used systems from INFORM to make optimal use of our resources, and introduced handheld devices in 2009 to make mobile connections possible. By selecting Android, we made a deliberate decision against a rigid operating system as well as for technological independence. Fraport’s PRM ground handling services have also been using INFORM’s software solution GS RealTime since 2016 in order to document and archive everything in one system.
Which technological or operational changes could, in the future, have a further impact on your company?
As the number of passengers increases, we view technologies that assist us in this increasingly complex environment with anticipation and optimism. Due to our special situation, not only as a company that provides services to passengers at Frankfurt Airport, but also as a part of the airport itself, we have the ability to view the PRM flight process in a holistic manner. As such, we are currently working on a system to accurately record timestamps by scanning barcodes at certain locations. But we’re certainly keeping an eye on the introduction of iBeacons throughout the airport, as well as the transmission of required information to wearables, for example, which employees can view immediately.
When it comes to Frankfurt Airport’s infrastructure, the completion of Terminal 3 will obviously once again require us to make technical changes. Since we expanded A-West in October 2012 and both the implementation as well as corresponding changes were carried out without any issues, we are looking to the future with optimism. Operational changes primarily result for our company due to EU laws. But we aren’t expecting any changes in this regard for the time being.