Writing this, my first article for Ground Support Worldwide, makes me feel almost like the first day at a new school, you know, the new guy on the block. That's certainly true as far as this magazine is concerned but when it comes to blocks, especially when it involves aircraft handling, I've been around a few and qualify for the title of "Hairy 'Tailed' Ramp Tramp" (in deference to our more sensitive readers)! Apart from the 'day job', I'm also heavily involved with the IATA Airside Safety Group—being it's current chairman for the next few months—and write a ramp safety feature for another magazine that shall, if I still want the editor to continue to talk to me, remain nameless.
So what makes me think that I can lecture you, the collection of ramp professionals that read this magazine? Well, first of all if you think you can't learn any more, you're a safety risk! When it comes to any type of safety, especially ramp safety, it must be a constant learning process. I don't care how experienced you are; there will always be a situation that you've never come across before, something not covered in the manual. Not that I intend to lecture, far from it! In this, the first (I hope) of a series of articles, I will pontificate and give my views on some of my pet subjects and common ramp incidents. You are perfectly entitled to disagree—in fact I'm rather hoping you will because debate is healthy and a sharing of ideas will help everybody. (Please DO send a letter to the editor with your rebuttal.)
OK, lets start the ball rolling. One topic that has become hot is that of turnround coordinators since the UK Health & Safety Agency—backed by the UK CAA—published proposals to make them mandatory. Now this to me is a Red Cap by another name and I always thought Red Caps were a good idea. But they, like many other good ideas, went out of fashion.
Their 'fall from grace' started about the time that airlines started contracting out many of the ground services with many different companies doing all the jobs that the airlines used to do themselves. Tighter turnrounds and contracts meant that suppliers needed access to the aircraft during the whole turn time and so started a free-for-all that was almost beyond control. The Red Cap, instead of being the 'God' of the turnround, was demoted to 'ramp dispatcher' or some similar title that really meant 'gofer'. (Before I get inundated with hate mail from highly qualified flight dispatchers, I'm NOT talking about you!) The next step was to outsource the ramp dispatcher role, usually to the supplier who was providing the main ramp handling activities and, because say the fuel supplier, will not be told what to do by the handling agent, the concept of the Red Cap is finally laid to rest. Unfortunately, his passing seems to have heralded an increase in ramp damage and its associated cost.
Now along come those pesky Brits who look like they're upsetting the apple cart by proposing that we go back to a Red Cap by another name. I, for one, welcome it and I know I'm not alone. The IATA Airside Safety Group is working on defining best practice for a turnround coordinator and these will be published in the near future. I have one problem, however, and it is that this position will be required by UK legislation and there's the rub. We, as an industry, have outsourced and financially cut back to the point that, it appears, whatever savings are being made, are eaten up by the cost of ground damage and lost working time due to injury. The Red Cap seems to be one of those cutbacks and now legislation has to be drawn up to return us to a safer point in time.
It's my belief that one person should be controlling all aspects of the turnround, who access the aircraft including the when and the how. Now that's going to cause a bit of friction at all levels of the organization, from the ramp worker who can't get his job done when it's convenient, up to the company directors who have to reassess their working practice. Well, we're just going to have to work it out and ensure that the environment around the aircraft, while it's on the ground, is properly controlled. Before you all start accusing me of ignoring the financial requirements of the industry, I'm saying that it should be money well spent as, hopefully, the increased control will reduce the number of incidents and similarly reduce the gazillions of dollars wasted on ground damage.
I look forward to the return of the Red Cap, in whatever form he/she is reincarnated, as long as he/she has the power, and knowledge to fully supervise/control the turnround.
That's my other concern, training. The old style Red Cap had 'been there, done that' and knew all the angles, but in these enlightened times we're all becoming specialized—the caterer doesn't know what the deicer does and the loader doesn't want to know what the toilet service guy has to put up with. So where do we find the required skills to act as turnround coordinator? Difficult, as nobody in the industry except maybe a few of us with hairy tails has the experience anymore. So we'll have to train them making sure that we have the right people for the job in the first place. We are talking management skills here, both of people and situations and that quality is not inbred in all men.
Well that's my first rant. I know that the focus on this is currently only in the UK, but as I said earlier, I feel there could be a ground swell of support for the idea. I also know a few carriers who still issue that coveted red cap to the best of their ramp staff. Keep up the good work! Until the next time, stay safe.