Although it was once a highly fragmented and hidden sector of aviation, the airport ground handling industry has started to come together in the past few years. In a recent report by the CAPA Centre for Aviation, they suggested that globally the industry could be worth $80-100 billion, which would make it a sizeable portion of the estimated $700 billion world aviation industry as a whole. And it’s still growing. The ground handling industry is not only benefiting from the general global increase in flying, but it’s also an activity that many airlines are increasingly outsourcing outside of their home markets, and in some cases even their home countries.
It seems like the industry is being pulled in all different directions. On one hand there has been a recognizable increase in competition, due to the fact that many airports and governments, most notably the European Union, now insist that airports of a certain size must have at least two handlers in competition with one another. Airports that were once monopolies are now home to competitive free-for-alls.
On the other hand, increased mergers and acquisitions have eliminated some players. Ground handling was mainly a localized industry, with many small or family-owned players competing with the big international groups. Now the larger groups are buying out the family businesses, eliminating competition. There is still plenty of scope for more M&A activity, though. One major merger at the top level was with the sale of UK-headquartered Servisair to Swissport in December 2013, creating the world’s largest handling company with over 270 stations in 48 countries around the world.
The ground handling industry hasn’t quite reached the point where there are very large, internationally spread companies that are able to handle airlines in any corner of the world, but that is still a goal that many of the larger firms are working towards through a combination of acquisition and growth.