Dr Gareth M. Evans
Three years on from its launch and, although it is still effectively in its infancy, the IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations (ISAGO) program is undeniably gathering momentum as interest in the potential benefits it has to offer continues to grow around the world. To date, there are 61 ground service providers (GSPs) at 85 locations across the globe which have undergone the necessary corporate audit and full audit of at least one of their stations that is required to be listed on the ISAGO registry. It represents a measure of how the industry has begun to embrace the idea.
The program has three simple aims — to improve ground operations safety, reduce ground damage and bolster the efficiency of auditing — and the logic behind this is compelling. With the current operational environment typically lacking consistency and simplicity, confusion is inevitable; standardizing procedures worldwide, so the thinking goes, should eventually result in measurable improvements across the industry.
Fostering continuous improvement
The potential for GSPs is clear, not least because the structure of the program itself, which requires renewal audits every two years, fosters a process of continuous improvement, as Jon Conway, divisional senior VP of Dnata Airport Operations at Dubai International Airport explains. “In May 2008, Dnata entered the ISAGO registry, both headquarters and stations being audited by trained and experienced auditors,” he says. “In April 2010, a renewal audit was conducted to check on our ability to continue our registration and those audit findings then helped us in further improving various aspects of operational safety, which are complimented by our OHSAS 18001:2007 certification.”
This is something echoed by Sergey Domradov, one of a number of independent safety training consultants riding the rising tide of cultural change amid ground handlers in Russia, the CIS and many of the now independent former Soviet satellites. “Companies here have been quick to see the advantages from the start,” he says, pointing to the fact that Lithuanian-based Baltic Ground Services (BGS) was the first handler in Europe — and only the tenth in the world — to be registered. “ISAGO is becoming very popular now. It is partly for the savings. Like everywhere else, reduced costs speak loudly, but mainly for reasons of nationalistic pride to do things better and safer. This program gives a framework to achieve that progress.”
Just as importantly, it also means that the necessary effort involved to subsequently keep up those standards receives a measure of public recognition too. As BGS CEO, Saulius Batavicius, commented on the company’s certificate renewal, it “indicates that we maintain the highest level of safety and airline companies we serve at Vilnius airport receive ground handling services that conform to internationally recognized standards.”
Raising awareness on the ground
Undergoing regular re-examination in this way can also have a wider spin-off effect on workforce awareness, and as Abdellah Ben Lahcen, auditing and quality assurance controller for Airline Supervisors Experts (ASE) in Morocco, testifies, this has proven to be a valuable bonus. “In addition to the fact that ASE was proud to join the ISAGO program and gain the trust of its customers all over the world, our staff are now more aware about the safety and security issues than ever and are doing their part to implement the safety and security procedures on the ground,” he says.
For Dnata, this was one of the key factors behind their decision to be early participants. “We are on a bit of a crusade to raise the safety bar,” explains Conway, “and an IATA program which, we believe, will become a minimum requirement for major IATA carriers seemed like a no brainer.” Their base operation in Dubai was the first ground-handling agent in the world to gain ISAGO registration, and all of their international businesses are following, with the Zurich and Geneva stations in Switzerland this year. In the words of Stewart Angus, the company’s divisional senior VP for international operations, “having an aspiration to be the best has enabled Dnata’s international ground-handling business to expand internationally.”
IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations
The ISAGO program is an audit system conducted in a standardized and consistent manner, using internationally recognized quality auditing principles.