NATA Airline Services Council: Setting Safety and Business Benchmarks

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.


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.

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