The Azores, with its strategic location between two of the main air traffic zones – the American and European continents – are often the most viable option in an emergency for the dozens of flights that cross the Atlantic every day.
Lajes Airport, on Terceira Island, is the airport in the Azores that receives more requests for assistance from flights that diverge, which, for its favourable runway conditions for larger aircraft and good hospital conditions, receives more requests for assistance from flights that diverge, whether due to medical emergencies or technical questions.
These services are provided by SATA Handling, made up of experienced, dedicated and dynamic professionals who carry out with great pride and empathy a job that often requires a particularly intense degree of resilience and goodwill.
How does divergent flight assistance works
It is a joint effort between SATA, ACL – Aerogare Civil das Lajes – and the Portuguese Air Force, with the runway and runway conditions belonging to the Portuguese Air Force, while SATA Handling is responsible for the ground assistance service to aircraft, passengers and cargo.
When medical emergencies occur, the plane lands and the SATA team, initially made up of a Ground Handling Operator, two Ramp Operators and a Ground Handling Passenger Services Agent, puts the ladders next to the aircraft, allowing the Air Force medical team to quickly board the plane to provide the first medical assistance to the passenger, which can take between 30 minutes and two hours, depending on the situation. Then the refueling of the aircraft begins. However, if it is essential to disembark passengers from the plane, it will be necessary to have more SATA employees to assist passengers.
In the case of technical emergencies, the situation is more complex because it may involve providing assistance to hundreds of passengers, who are now in the care of the SATA Handling team and keeping the plane at the airport for weeks (since there may not be on the Mechanical Lajes specialists for the equipment in question).
On average, except for 2019 and 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Lajes Airport handles between 25 and 30 assistances per year, the most frequent being aircraft from the airlines KLM and Air France, with whom SATA Group already has a long history.
A challenging job done with a lot of dedication
Handling assistance on flights that differ requires an extra dose of empathy, decision-making capacity, and effective management in a short period of time. This requires resilience and the ability to maintain clear and assertive communication with passengers.
“When we are faced with more challenging situations, we do what we do best: aware that the perfect solution doesn’t exist, we think of a solution that can mitigate the negative effects of the situation as much as possible.” explains Edson Areias, Ground Handling Manager at Lajes Airport.
This is a critical work, which literally saves many people’s lives, but which requires a unique degree of resilience.
If SATA’s handling has already had to deal with many challenges, it is also true that its excellent performance does not go unnoticed by the several airlines that have been assisted by Handling at Lajes Airport over the years.