ISAGO Begins to Take Hold

To date, there are 61 ground service providers at 85 locations across the globe listed on the ISAGO registry.

Clearly ISAGO could help continue that expansion, particularly if, as Conway suggests, the program does ultimately become established as the de facto global benchmark, since the multiple iterations of the routine audit cycle experienced by the likes of Dnata and other early-joiners should help position them ahead of the pack. As many have observed, inspiring a culture of safety can play a major role in driving ground handling costs down, and then keeping them there. There may well be “no competition when it comes to safety,” as IATA CEO Giovanni Bisignani has said, but there is certainly an undoubted commercial advantage to be gained from palpable compliance.

In addition, ISAGO continues to grow as more airports and civil aviation authorities mandate the program. GSPs have been required to be ISAGO registered at Seattle Tacoma International Airport, Montego Bay Jamaica Airport, Lebanon and Turkey (for GSPs providing passengers, cargo and ramp services), while on the other side, Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport has named ISAGO as one of its oversight components.

Audit experience

Nevertheless, at least for the moment, ISAGO remains the “new kid on the block,” which inevitably leaves it needing to work alongside currently established custom and practice. On a positive note, experience has shown that the scheme can dovetail into existing occupational health and safety management initiatives with relative ease, allowing handling companies to benefit from their current quality, environmental and health & safety management know-how. ASE’s Ben Lahcen, for instance, has found that this can bring significant potential benefits in terms of reducing the overall resources needed to be allocated as a result. “The process of registration didn’t take much time,” he says, “as ASE had already prepared for this program by establishing a QES System and security and safety procedures before we started.”

Moreover, although as Groundforce Portugal’s Eduardo So Marcos points out, certification involves a level of expenditure for the registration process and the necessary training for implementing this system, the pay-back can be swift. “These initial costs soon became an investment to the extent that the practices that were acquired allowed in fact a more rigorous carrying out of procedures related to security, minimizing operational risks, reducing both accidents and costs,” he says. The certification process itself, he continues “was quite a rewarding experience because it allowed the exchange of experiences and adjustment to new work routines.”

It seems that the picture is somewhat less rosy, however, when it comes to the widely held expectation that the program would lead to the avoidance of much of the necessity for the multiple and repetitive auditing that has for so long bedeviled the industry.

Having been involved quite literally from the get-go, Dnata have a unique perspective on the issue. “We have been a little surprised at the volume of airline audits still conducted post registration,” says Conway, “even from airlines who subscribe to the audit pool.” Any hopes that ISAGO registration would result in a noticeable fall in the numbers of redundant airline audits appear to have been largely unfulfilled; in 2010 alone, the Dubai operation was audited by no fewer than 29 airlines. When they raised the issue with the relevant authorities, the message came back that the program was still new, and that it would take some time for airlines to accept ISAGO audits in lieu of their own. Three years from the program’s inception, this evidently is a less than ideal outcome, but as he readily concedes, for what is effectively work in progress, “it is still relatively early days.”


That being so, it is even earlier days for the IATA Ground Operation Manual (IGOM) initiative, which aims to overcome the current situation where each airline produces its own ground operations manual, often resulting in variations of procedure, even for the same aircraft type. In addition, some GSPs produce their own manuals for use as the default, when there is no clear direction from an individual airline, which tends to muddy the waters further. Quite apart from the innate time inefficiencies that result from having to meet different standards, the safety risks increase too, in terms of both the potential for worker injuries and damage to aircraft and equipment.

We Recommend