Why should baggage handling operators choose an O&M solution over an in-house team?

For some airports, choosing an external operations and maintenance (O&M) solution rather than using in-house O&M staff can make more business sense. We explore why an O&M solution may be preferable to an internal solution for baggage handling operators. 

By Franco Migliorati


What is an O&M solution?

Modern automated baggage handling systems (BHS) can be complex, requiring a certain level of expertise before BHS operators can achieve optimal system performance with the greatest capacity.

For some airports, it has been the usual practice to develop their own O&M departments in parallel with the development of their BHS. As they have become increasingly mechanised, they have had to ensure they could be robust and independent with their own engineers on site.

But as the airport sector seeks to achieve more with fewer resources during an ongoing staffing crisis, some airports are starting to question whether it would be more cost-effective to outsource their O&M work.

By relying on external O&M support, they could gain increased flexibility and the right knowledge and skill sets to optimise their system performance.

The assurance offered by an O&M solution

An external O&M solution (or a residential service) is a way in which an airport’s baggage handling operators can completely discharge the burden of their O&M requirements.

A residential service makes sure the BHS delivers the required functionality for a defined period against a defined cost. The greatest assurance of a residential service is that the service provider ensures the airport can meet passengers expectations against a reasonable cost.

External O&M solutions: Remote but always available

In the past, residential services have been deployed on site. Today, however, we are seeing the evolution of more remote services.

Data-driven preventative and predictive maintenance has resulted in fewer frequent system breakdowns, and it’s now possible to run processes without having an engineer on site. Or in some environments, a limited ‘partial residential service set-up’ may be all that is needed, once the residential services team has trained the airport’s BHS operators.

Why choose an O&M solution?

In engaging residential services, BHS managers can gain significant benefits that may explain why many operators are increasingly looking externally for their O&M solutions. We look at the advantages in turn.

Recruiting, training and retaining staff

One of the critical advantages for airports engaging an externally-operated residential service is that it can ease the strain of recruiting and retaining staff – particularly in the post-pandemic era of labour shortages. A residential support team also brings its expertise and resources, so the airport doesn’t have to deal with the headache of allowing for the time ordinarily required to recruit and train staff.

For an airport with its own O&M team, training is a substantial and ongoing responsibility. The retention of organisational and operational knowledge then becomes problematic for the airport as new staff must be trained over again. And as more and more BHS operators seek higher levels of staff education, there is an increased risk that these highly-skilled O&M personnel become disinterested as fewer breakdowns occur.

Development and mentorship

A residential services team will not only train BHS personnel but also teach them how they can achieve optimal performance with their baggage handling systems. The more training, coaching and guidance the operational staff receive – both operations managers and their teams on the ground – the more likely they are to secure a higher system output and fewer breakdowns.

Residential services often become mentors or subject matter experts that airport staff can lean on to develop and improve their skills and performance.

Greater flexibility and availability

A residential service team can also offer greater flexibility and a larger pool of support. If one of its team members falls ill or the airport experiences peak loads on its BHS, securing contingency with a residential services team is far less complicated than with internal staff.

In fact, Singapore Changi Airport doesn’t actually require additional staff during peak loads. The long-term, close relationship between the airport and its residential service team has enabled the team to develop a thorough understanding of the airport’s needs to deliver the required performance. Through meticulous and rigorous ongoing system checks, the residential services team is able to avoid any surprises.

In contrast, contingency planning can be difficult for airports with an in-house team, as the team is usually limited when it comes to resources, the variety of services it delivers and around-the-clock availability.

Industry knowledge and expertise

Another benefit of choosing a residential services solution is the airport sector-wide knowledge it brings.

O&M providers have O&M contracts with airports all over the world, so the have direct access to the extensive knowledge of a skilled global workforce – from first, second and third-line experts. An entrance to these experienced professionals also informs the BHS operator about the potential opportunities and innovations in the industry.

With this comprehensive experience and know-how, a residential service provider has insight into what works for certain airports and what may not be effective for others. A residential services team is founded on a culture of continuous improvement and best practices, so comes with the most up-to-date knowledge and innovations.

An internal O&M team, however, may not have access to the technical expertise that the residential services team has, or know the preventive or corrective actions that need to be performed. Nor will it have direct access to the global support structure that is available to the external O&M residential services team.


Externally-operated residential services solutions have often proven to be more cost-effective than ‘own’ O&M departments within airport BHS operations.

​​The needs of each airport at any given time are not always the same. An external residential service is able to provide just the right amount of service the airport needs during peak seasons and departure slots, without over-servicing it.

Given its expertise, a residential services team is also able to smoothly handle a rising demand on capacity at no extra cost. When Changi Airport experienced a marked daily increase in bags, for example, its external O&M team was able to reliably deliver and perform using the same number of personnel as it had at the start of the services contract.

Some residential services teams are delivering solutions that can be operated with a minimal, onsite team, which is also very cost-effective.

A working partnership based on trust

The best form of a BHS residential services solution is a partnership based on trust and transparency. Working in full cooperation with a dedicated team that knows the ins and outs of its business can help the BHS operator succeed in meeting passenger demand for accurate and safe baggage delivery.

A true partnership involves more than just performance of the O&M contract and fulfilling KPIs. An effective O&M solution provider takes ownership and makes clear to the BHS operator on a daily basis that the O&M team is delivering the best service possible to ensure it can meet passenger expectations. Reporting and transparency should include clear information when the provider has missed something and where there is room for improvement.

Long-term success vs short-term gain

Importantly, a residential services team is interested in the long-term success of the airport’s BHS operations over a short-term gain. Taking a long-term perspective, the O&M service provider’s mission is to lead with the ability to set strategic directions that deliver value and quality performance over the long haul.

Residential teams work with data analytics

Finally, it has to be said that being able to leverage data analytics is one tool a BHS operator must master in today’s airport environment of thin margins and labour scarcity.

Data analytics, however, is not a simple science. It is one thing to have a traffic-lights type dashboard but it is another to use this advanced tool to really understand how the BHS is working in its daily operations. Data engineers can look at an operation and literally distil how it functioned today to improve tomorrow’s operations.

By having access to the data experts of a residential services team, baggage operators gain expertise regarding how to use data at a higher level. Data professionals are able to interpret data, bring to light what’s hidden in the data and reveal deeper insights. As in-house teams don’t generally have access to this level of expertise, residential services can skillfully fill a knowledge gap.

Data analytics also enables a leaner onsite solution as a new way of engaging external O&M support. Through data analytics, the BHS operator can redefine planned maintenance strategies and regimes based on historical system performance, failures, alarms, throughput and overall system availability – with minimal or no onsite team.


Without a workable O&M solution, many BHS operators are having difficulty operating at an optimal performance – particularly during the ongoing staffing crisis. Outsourcing O&M support is a very cost-effective solution for an airport lacking in certain skills or having trouble recruiting and retaining skilled staff. By opting for an external provider, BHS operators also gain industry-wide knowledge from expert professionals who are exposed to the most up-to-date knowledge and innovations.

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