NATA Airline Services Council: Setting Safety and Business Benchmarks

In woodworking, careful measurements are taken and marked on the workbench in order to repeat the precise calculations on several similar pieces of wood. These benchmarks allow the craftsman to easily repeat the same cuts again and again without the need to repeat the same measurements each time.

Similarly, in the airline services industry, we must define benchmarks for safety and business to help us measure our performance, help compare the tasks we perform every day, and see whether we are working as safely, secure and efficiently as we possibly can. Once such an industry-accepted standard is set, comparisons to that standard are easily attained.

Several recent serious and highly visible incidents by ground handlers in the airline services industry have caused experts in the field to pause and consider that perhaps we are not doing enough to maximize the safety culture in the airport operating area (AOA) and in the terminal.

Beginning in the early 1970s, the airlines created defined terminology to ensure all incident reporting was standardized and uniform. As a result of this effort, the airlines are able to collect extensive data through accurate reporting of similar incidents. This apples to apples approach has resulted in significant safety improvements and a marked decrease in incidents and ground (runway) incursions in the airline industry. Programs like the FAA’s Continuing Analysis and Surveillance Systems (CASS), Human Factors Education, and Crew Resource Management, have lead to better safety awareness, best practices recommendations, and improved safety for airlines.

As yet, the airline services industry has not adopted a similar standardization of reporting definitions. The logical starting place for this standardization is through the National Air Transportation Association Airline Services Council (NATA ASC). NATA ASC is in an ideal position to facilitate the creation of standardized definitions for the purpose of reporting incidents and creating safety benchmarks for our industry segment. The National Air Transportation Association formed the Airline Services Council to further the interests of companies that provide services to scheduled air carriers as their primary business. ASC-member company services include aircraft fueling, baggage service, catering, potable water and lavatory services, terminal services, cargo services, aircraft handling, deicing, maintenance, security services, air-cargo warehousing and aircraft cleaning, among others. They are an integral component of the national air transportation system. The primary goal of the ASC is to serve member companies and provide a voice within the public policy arena, especially in terms of issues that impact their viability and profitability.

Scheduled airlines, both large and small, are increasingly looking for ways to reduce their labor costs. Airlines are finding that contracting for these services with other companies is a cost-effective, safe and secure way to reduce their overall expenses. Start-up carriers in particular rely on airline service companies for the much-needed infrastructure to start and expand their operations.

Currently, the ASC represents 23 domestic and international firms employing a combined workforce in excess of 90,000 people, and generating more than $2.5 billion in annual sales at more than 450 airports. The firms range from single-location businesses to multi-national corporations. Although the ASC caters to the unique concerns of airline service firms, NATA’s traditional membership has always included companies that serve commercial air carriers, but primarily for into-plane fueling and baggage handling. One of the ASC’s roles is to ensure that this critical, growing segment of the aviation industry is fully recognized by government and others during this period of recovery.

As a result, NATA ASC plans to work with its members to create a standardized reporting program containing definable incident data collection. Once standardized definitions have been created, the next step is the anonymous collection of reporting data from airline services companies to set the current benchmark. Working with our members, the NATA Safety 1st Program, and aviation safety consulting group SH&E, NATA ASC will collect accident and incident data which will allow us to measure the current safety levels and create acceptable best practice recommendations for all segments of our industry.

All of the data collected would be scrubbed for identifying information. The data collected cannot be used to identify a particular company. Furthermore, the data will not be used to penalize a company for an incident, assign blame for an accident, and will not contain any information that will reveal sensitive trade secrets or proprietary information to competitors. This sterilized data will then be carefully analyzed to determine trends and unsafe practices, which contribute to accidents and incidents. Once these trends are identified, best practices will be recommended to reduce or eliminate these kinds of accidents. Additionally, the information will be shared with several of the largest insurance underwriters in the industry. By tracking improvements in safety, the result will be significantly lower insurance premiums, savings in deductibles, and less difficulty in approval for policy coverage.

By demonstrating this improved culture of safety, airline services companies can prove to their employees and to the airlines with which they contract that they are taking steps to ensure a safer experience.

Those companies wishing to assist in this process, may visit the NATA ASC website at to learn more. The first step is to fill out the confidentiality agreement, which can be found on the resources page of the site. The completed form must be faxed to the number on the bottom. Once this has been accomplished the company will receive further information on reporting, and collection of data. This initiative is not only limited to members of NATA ASC. While membership is encouraged and serves to strengthen the entire effort, non-member companies may also participate in the process.

We must not, and cannot ignore the safety of those who work for us. That is our greatest responsibility. Our employees expect it and our customers demand it.