Costs and Causes
In a review of accident causes, NBAA’s Safety Committee found that some 45 percent of incidents occur during towing. Another 25 percent happen during other movements on the ramp; 20 percent are due to ground service equipment; and, 10 percent occur during movements within a hangar.
Among the top human errors that contribute to ground damages: time pressures, improper training, issues involving the setting (visual obstructions, noise levels, lack of illumination, etc.), communication breakdowns, and failure to pay attention to surroundings.
The cost of accidents comes out of the hangarkeeper’s pocket, either through deductibles or the eventual higher cost of insurance. Hangarkeeper’s coverage provides liability protection for the insured’s handling of aircraft for safekeeping, storage, maintenance, and repairs. Coverage includes not only liability for repairs of damaged aircraft but also liability for damages for loss of use of damaged aircraft, such as the cost of replacement aircraft during the necessary repair period.
Before issuing a policy, an underwriter assesses a hangar operation for evidence that industry standards are being followed. This includes an examination of written policies and procedures, employee training practices, emergency planning — even the cleanliness of the facility.
Observations revealing conditions such as poor housekeeping, debris in the work area, or little to no tool and equipment controls may expose a facility to an elevated potential for incidents. Weak housekeeping controls can lead to debris sucked into jet intakes or damaging aircraft tires, and oil on a hangar floor can contribute to a variety of accidents. Underwriters look for the subtle signs.
Much of the following advice on best practices will be familiar to veteran hangarkeepers. Yet, some issues are becoming increasingly important as the industry evolves and faces competitive pressures, particularly in the labor force marketplace.
For example, aircraft handling and movement are clearly the most critical time for careful follow-through on safe practice and procedures. NBAA’s
Safety Committee identifies several safe practices for personnel to follow, including:
- Chock both the nose wheel and at least one main wheel to secure a parked aircraft and place cones at the four points of a parked aircraft. Secure wheels of ladders and other ground service equipment so nothing can jostle them into an aircraft.
- Use wing-walking observers (one for each wing) while an aircraft is being moved; use a tail walker when backing an aircraft into a hangar.
- Inspect tow vehicles daily; label or mark all equipment with ratings for maximum load and use with appropriate aircraft type. Mark floors to indicate the perimeter of safe distances from walls.
- Secure hangar doors to prevent against jet blast or high winds.
- Have the team evaluate the area for hazards every time an aircraft is moved.
- Observe a ten-foot circle of safety around aircraft at all times.
Some other best practices include having an emergency plan in place and practicing responses; planning all aircraft movements and clearing the area of debris; maintaining safe clearances; and parking vehicles so they are parallel to the airplane to prevent any accidents.
Safety, Human Factors
Perhaps the area that requires the most attention is employee training and safety. The Airport Operations Safety Panel issued a report in 2004 that cites “ill-trained and poorly paid workers” as a “potentially lethal hazard with enormously expensive consequences.” Among other things, the report says that low salaries fail to attract experienced workers and contribute to high turnover. One industry source estimates that “ten or eleven turns of personnel in a year” is not uncommon.
An airport operator in the report is quoted as saying that when a $400,000 truck refueling a $50-200 million aircraft is being driven by an employee who makes less than someone cleaning toilets in the airport terminal, “there is something wrong.”
The International Air Transport Association points to human error as the primary cause in 92 percent of accidents involving damage to aircraft or terminal buildings. Their conclusion was that inadequate training, inadequate supervision, and failure to follow standard procedures were the primary causes.
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