Written by Shana Burg, Translated and Interviewed by Kristine de Luna
Carlos Porro has been enthralled by all things airplanes since he was a young boy. Growing up in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, his father worked as an aerospace engineer.
“Back then security was nothing like today,” Carlos explains. “When I was eleven years old, my father would sneak me onto the airplanes. Everything about the planes thrilled me, from the smell of the fuel, to the cabin, to the hum of engine noise, to the pilot’s quarters.”
Today, Carlos is the station manager for Worldwide Flight Services (WFS) at the Seville-San Pablo Airport. The company provides high quality cargo, passenger, premium, ramp, baggage and technical services across a network spanning over 170 locations in more than 22 countries on five continents.
Working as Station Manager
The Seville-San Pablo Airport operates 1,300-1,400 flights per month. Carlos has been the WFS station manager here for the past seven years.
Each morning, Carlos arrives at the airport at 6:30am, where he holds a team meeting for the leaders of all departments. This includes the managers for customer service, operations, baggage handling, equipment, cargo, and security. As the managers enjoy their morning coffee, Carlos runs through what’s pending and urgent, and he reviews any problems they’ll need to solve during the day.
After that, Carlos answers emails, takes calls, pays invoices, and deals with clients, many of whom are airlines and cargo companies. Throughout the day, Carlos will spend most of his time talking to airport employees in an effort to resolve logistical problems.
The most common revolve around scheduling; if there are any late or canceled flights, it’s up to Carlos to figure out what went wrong and how the WFS team can improve its efficiency.
Carlos also spends a lot of time negotiating with the unions that represent the employees’ interests.
“It can be really conflictual. I want to give the best to my employees but there are some things that can’t be accomplished,” he says. “Sometimes we can’t come to an understanding immediately but we will later on.”
According to Carlos, the hardest negotiations are about vacation time. “It’s difficult to keep everyone happy, but I feel excited whenever we are able to come to an understanding or compromise,” he says.
Helping the Country in the Pandemic
“In the beginning of the pandemic, the airport was a weird place to be at,” Carlos says. In March, 2020, flights in and out of Spain nearly ground to a halt, as the government scrambled for a way to handle the coronavirus crisis.
Normally there might be around 30 flights a day into and out of Seville, but suddenly, there were only a few. And those flights were restricted to medical personnel traveling to provide care. Or, they were planes full of cargo.
“It was heartbreaking to see the planes that are typically filled with people only filled with masks,” Carlos explains. Yet at the same time, Carlos found it rewarding to be helping his country by handling the logistics of moving medical supplies.
“It was surreal to be in an airport that wasn’t moving people, only items—mostly health-related items, medical and sanitary. But it was amazing to be part of helping the world get past this standstill,” he explains.
The hardest part for Carlos, though, was sending hundreds of employees home. In Spain, they have a wage law, so that while workers aren’t permanently laid off from their jobs, they are sent home and paid a lesser salary by the government.
“It was hard to watch their daily lives turn into something they had never experienced before,” Carlos says.
A few months later, when the initial COVID surge subsided, most of those employees were able to return to their jobs at the airport.
As work returned to something resembling normality, Carlos was determined to make his employees' work lives as simple as possible. That's why, with the return of flights full of passengers, Carlos introduced Zello to his staff to help airport logistics run more smoothly than ever.
Using Zello to Improve Team Communication
“Direct, instant communication is vital for airports,” Carlos says. “We need excellent communication to make things work, so we use Zello in every department.”
For the past seven months, all WFS employees have been using Zello to improve.
“We used to have a radio service but the coverage wasn’t good enough,” Carlos explains. “We thought about getting a different walkie-talkie app, but after much research, we realized that Zello is by far superior to other options.
One of the features that Carlos appreciates most about Zello is the ability to customize channels. For example, the crew that handles in-flight logistics has different needs for their Zello channel than customer service.
Members of the in-flight logistics crew constantly communicate with each other about how the airplane is set up, how many passengers are inside, when the baggage is loaded, and whether the security checks are complete. Because they spend considerable time underneath the airplanes where it’s very noisy, they are unable to hear voice communications.
Carlos was able to set up the channel for the in-flight logistics crew as text only.
“This is what we love about Zello,” Carlos says. “We can configure it exactly how we want.”
But for the customer service agents, voice communication is critical.
“They need to quickly talk to their managers to resolve passenger problems, while still maintaining communication with the customer right in front of them,” Carlos explains. These passengers may have incomplete documentation to travel, they may have misplaced their reservation, or they can’t find a passport.
“Zello helps the agents resolve passenger problems as quickly as possible,” Carlos says.
“The app is very important for our baggage handlers, too,” he adds. “There are a lot of moving parts within baggage and we need to carefully coordinate them all. One person is sorting the baggage. Another person is loading bags onto the plane, and another person is organizing the bags inside the plane. Zello helps this team keep in constant communication with each other so the operation runs smoothly.”
Monitoring Operations with Zello
The managers of each department rely heavily on Zello to efficiently manage their crews. But Carlos, who supervises the managers, uses Zello to listen in on the various channels and get a high-level view of what’s happening on the ground.
He also uses it to resolve any problems that might arise. For example, the other day, Carlos was listening to the channel for passenger buses that operate inside the airport. The bus driver needed to be in a certain place at a certain time to pick up passengers and drop them off at the correct destinations. Drivers use Zello to send their locations, which provides managers with proof that the buses are running on time.
“But that day there was a conflict,” Carlos says. “The manager said the driver was late, but the driver said, ‘I was at the pickup location at the right time.’ I was able to retrieve the message sent on Zello to show proof that the driver was running a little late to a pickup stop. This proof helped the driver become more aware of the route and the timing.”
In addition to all these departments, WFS has workers who handle marshalling, aircraft loading and unloading, crew transport, baggage handling, cabin cleaning and dressing, load planning, weight and balance, flight operations, ULD (Unit Load Devices) control, ground power, air conditioning for boarding bridges and aircraft, dispatch, towing and pushback. There are also people who handle de-icing and into-plane refuelling services.
With Zello on all employee phones, communication becomes more effective and efficient.
“The best feature,” Carlos says, “is the ability to replay a message. “On a regular walkie talkie you have to ask the person to repeat what they said. But with Zello, you can replay the message. This is useful when it comes to logistics like if a plane needs more gas or we need to take steps to ensure security. It’s essential for me to be able to act on this information when I’m actually in a location where I can act on it.”
The other Zello feature that Carlos finds extremely useful is the ability to include photos. “If there’s a security incident, we always write a report,” Carlos says. “For example, if an airport transport bus has an oil spill, we have to write the report and add a photo as part of our documentation.”
Getting a Great Report
Most major WFS clients will visit the airport to do an in-person inspection. FedEx recently visited the airport to inspect every part of the airplane. They ran an audit to make sure that Carlos and the WFS employees were in compliance with all the security, logistics and personnel procedures, as well as any other requirements in the contract between FedEx and WFS.
“After FedEx finished the inspection, they wrote up a report. They said we were doing really great. Coming from a client like FedEx, it means a lot and is very rewarding,” Carlos says. “It’s also important because it helps us renew our contract later on.”
Carlos says that he’s confident Zello helped them get such a spectacular report. “In aviation, time is money and to manage that time well, communication is vital. Zello helps us get information quickly which greatly improves our work.”
Even though Carlos has spent his whole career in the airline industry, he still loves it as much as when he was a young boy. “Even now, after thirty one years, I get excited about being in an airport or on an airplane,” he says.