Raising the Bar for Safety

A look at the IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations (ISAGO) program


By Mike O’Brien, director, implementation/auditing, safety, operations and infrastructure, IATA

Following the official launch of ISAGO at its Ops Forum event in late February in Madrid, the International Air Transport Association is now focused on finalizing all the practical aspects of getting this new global safety audit program up and running.

ISAGO is designed for ground handling companies operating at airports. Many players in the aviation industry have recognized that something needs to be done to “raise the bar” in terms of operational safety performance in ground handling. There are a good number of ground handling companies that are performing well. Our challenge is to achieve this level of performance throughout the industry.

Development of a common set of globally applicable operating standards, coupled with an audit program to assess conformity with those standards, seemed to be a logical solution to promote this more consistent safety performance level, and to better promote a risk management approach.

Safety is at the heart of the program, but there’s also huge efficiency gains to be made. Airlines expend enormous amounts of resources annually in carrying out ground service supplier audits at all their stations. And while it can be argued that such audits make good business sense, in many aviation regulatory environments (Europe being a good example), airlines are required to conduct such audits. Not only do the airlines execute the audits, but the ground service providers have to receive the audits and respond to them. With several thousand audits taking place each year, this is a poor use of valuable resources.

Modeled on IOSA
Having launched IATA’s Operational Safety Audit of airlines in 2003, we were keen to make use of that experience. We’ve now conducted more than 500 audits under IOSA, and we’ve learned a lot, especially on the need to ensure consistency and quality of auditor performance. Like IOSA, ISAGO will have an arrangement — closely controlled — whereby audit reports can be shared among interested parties. If you’re using a report of an audit that you haven’t conducted yourself, you’ll want to be sure that it’s been done right. That’s where the ISAGO quality processes really matter.

Program basics
At the heart of ISAGO is a standards manual, which has been developed by IATA with the support of many industry specialists from both airlines and ground service providers. There is a task force dedicated to collation and analysis of safety data related to ground accidents and incidents. Many parties are contributing data, most notably the International Aviation Handlers Association (IAHA), and the Flight Safety Foundation which has brought to bear the data it has acquired in its Ground Accident Prevention (GAP) program.

ISAGO standards are classified in 10 different categories (see box on page 44). Each audit will be tailored to the type of activity being undertaken by the ground service provider being audited.

For further efficiency in audit execution and follow-up, each audit will be configured on an electronic audit management platform, which enables each auditor to access not only the actual standards and checklists, but any additional guidance and reference material that might be needed. The lead auditor will then bring each of the elements together from all auditors into a final report. The same software platform is then used to manage the corrective-action phase of the audit, allowing both auditors and auditee to resolve findings via the Web. The electronic platform has worked well for us in IOSA. It promotes consistency, efficiency, security and ease of handling of audit reports.

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