A Comprehensive Approach to Ground Safety

The most important priority of US airlines is the safety of its passengers and crew. Every day, airlines and their employees strive to maintain and improve already high safety standards. As a result, there has not been a serious accident by a mainline US carrier since 2001, a remarkable and unprecedented accomplishment.

According to data from the Air Transport Association (ATA) and National Safety Council, US airlines remain far and away the safest form of transportation in the world. In fact, the average American is more than 5,000 times more likely to die in a car than in an airliner. Statistically, a person could hypothetically fly every single day for 36,000 years before they would suffer a fatality onboard an airline.

Despite this impressive record, US airlines continue to push the safety bar even higher. Toward achieving this goal and ensuring that best practices are shared industrywide, ATA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) annually hosts the International Symposium on Human Factors in Maintenance and Ramp Safety in September in Orlando, Fla.

This symposium allows airlines and their business partners to collaborate on a variety of safety initiatives unique to ground operations. Participants include airline technical operations and ground safety managers, FAA aviation safety inspectors, National Transportation Safety Board members/staffers, manufacturers, training curricula developers, Part 145 repair station managers and human factors experts from around the globe.

Conference goals include addressing human factors matters that arise for operators and contract service personnel working together on maintenance and ramp services; assimilating the international collective wisdom related to human factors in aviation working environments; ensuring regulatory compliance and high quality in all technical work; and showcasing FAA and industry policies, projects and commitment to managing human factors.

One example of the items to be discussed during the conference is Line Operations Safety Audits (LOSA), which will allow airlines to better manage ground safety and ramp issues. The concept for LOSA was originally adapted from studies on cockpit threat and error management, conducted in partnership with Continental Airlines and the University of Texas in the 1990s.

Researchers at the time were interested in understanding key questions such as whether potential threats that could result in serious consequences were able to be neutralized by using behavioral strategies developed in awareness training and reinforced in actual line practice. They tested their theories by placing trained observers in cockpit jump seats, where they recorded and classified the reactions of crew to various threats. At the conclusion of the research, they were able to create a process to assess how often a proposed threat could result in an “undesired aircraft state.”

By incorporating this process into real-world ramp safety initiatives, it is possible to more thoroughly understand and mitigate human factors risks. To that end, the ATA Maintenance and Ramp Human Factors Task Force and ground-service contract vendors are implementing this innovative program. The task force is currently drafting a publication entitled, “How to Conduct Ramp LOSA.” Written in cooperation with airline members and their business partners, this publication will help standardize ramp operating procedures and promote safe practices. The publication will include a template for collecting and analyzing human factors contributing to optimum performance, assessing risk, developing mitigation strategies and measuring the effectiveness of those strategies. Useful tools under development include a Ramp LOSA Observation Form (recording behaviors), a Threat Code Form, and an Error Code Form. Together, these items will culminate in a Ground Safety Ramp Survey Data Report Tool that will provide solutions to many human factors ramp issues.

In addition to “How to Conduct Ramp LOSA,” the ATA Maintenance and Ramp Human Factors Task Force has also recently released other similar safety publications, including “Human Factors in Aviation Maintenance Operator’s Manual” and the “Human Factors in Airport Operations Operator’s Manual.” The latter includes information on procedural compliance; injury prevention; human factors training; fatigue/alertness management; shift/task turnover; event investigation, auditing and assessment sustaining; and justifying an Airport Operation Human Factors (AOHF) program.

Events such as these and the ongoing work of ATA and its member airlines are proof that our industry isn’t willing to rest on its laurels. Safety — whether on the ground or in the air — is a responsibility that we take very seriously. ATA plays an essential role in bringing aviation stakeholders together to make airline operations even safer.

If you are interested in interacting with human factors experts, regulatory authorities and airlines from around the world on these and other issues, consider attending the symposium in 2009. Together, we will continue to ensure that flying on US airlines remains the world’s safest form of transportation.

ATA airline members and their affiliates transport more than 90 percent of all US airline passengers and cargo traffic. For additional information about the industry, visit www.airlines.org.

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