During the South African Air Transport Conference held in Johannesburg recently, the regional director for IATA addressed delegates, advising that ground handlers were responsible for $4 billion in damages annually.
An enormous amount of money, the figure has reflected badly on this aspect of the industry.
Over the years, many studies have been carried out by various institutions, identifying problems which lead to these high accident costs.
Ground handling accidents have been widely found to be the result of three factors: GSE, operator and operating environment.
Factors contributing to the extreme accident costs related to GSE include equipment that is obsolete; poor or inadequate maintenance that often causes catastrophic failures at the wrong time; purchase of used GSE that has likely exceeded its designed service life, precluded by a company’s lack of funds; and the incorrect application of GSE.
The contributing factors of operator error include poor training, lack of motivation, overwork or fatigue and a lack of skill.
In researching the operating environment, the factors that come to the forefront are inclement weather, poor lighting for night operations, inadequately marked roadways and taxiways, poor road or apron surfaces and poor airport facilities.
Solving a systemic problem
It is one thing to identify the problems, but quite another to determine how to solve them.
In an effort to address the concerns, many airlines have implemented or are currently developing safety audit programs for safe and more efficient operations. Stakeholders in the audit process are being forced to “up their game” to achieve client retention. In addition, the requirements of the various airlines also bring first-class systems and standards to economically developing nations, the effect of which is a “forced learning curve,” which might have painful effects in the short term, but will reap the benefits in the long term.
IATA is currently busy with the Safety Audit for Ground Operations (ISAGO) program as a method of improving safety and laying down a standard. While IATA standards are very high and should be implemented worldwide, the laws in some countries might be in conflict with their standards or requirements. Naturally, the “law of the land” takes precedence where there are conflicts.
In many African countries, until recently, there has been little or no uniformity in setting standards for safety, either in the air or on the ground. Phrases such as “Africa has the deadliest skies in the world,” or “safety is just a word,” have been bandied about. In the past, such comments could be justified: For every positive comment made about the industry, someone would be able to relate a dangerous incident they have experienced or heard about.
Change on the horizon
Fortunately, this is all changing. The South African Division of Civil Aviation has taken bold steps to implement world-class safety standards, not only for South Africa, but for Africa as a whole. High level discussions and negotiations are currently taking place with a number of African countries in an effort to achieve, implement and sustain these standards.
The Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA), the controlling body for the 10 major airports in South Africa, recently put out a tender to license three ground handling companies to operate at their airports.
Two licenses have been issued effective March 1, 2008: one to BIDAir Services, a local company, and one to Menzies Aviation. Due to legal constraints, the third license has yet to be issued.
BIDAir is committed to the safety programs and is working in close cooperation with IATA to achieve full compliance with the ISAGO requirements and to obtain ISAGO certification as soon as possible, both of which are to provide a world-class service to clients.