ISO 9000 - A Plus For Airports

Airport veteran Steve Irwin offers his insights on why airports should take a serious look at adopting ISO 9000 standards at their operations.


Creating a quality standard at your airport may seem easy enough — hire the right people, give them some direction and the resources necessary to do their jobs, and let them go. But what is “quality” and how do you know when you’ve achieved it? And how do you maintain it once you’re there? The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) was founded in 1946 to promote the development of international standards and related activities and to facilitate the exchange of goods and services worldwide.

ISO is composed of member bodies from over 110 countries. The standard setting body in the United States is ANSI (American National Standards Institute). The quality system as defined by ISO in its 9000 series of standards was developed in response to the challenges of increasing market globalization. One of the unique features of the ISO 9000 standard is third-party certification of an organization’s quality system.

Total Quality Management, or TQM, popularized the concept of an organization having a quality culture, though it didn’t provide a specific, quantifiable measurement tool for achieving and maintaining it. TQM’s focus is on the individual within the organization. Originally conceived as a quality system for manufacturing, ISO quality assurance standards have evolved and now include organizations whose “product” is service. The basic ISO methodology begins with an organization documenting its business practices through the certification (or registration) process, and culminating in certification and recognition as meeting one of the international standards.

Service as a “Product”

ISO treats the delivery of services like any other product. Services can be designed, delivered, and managed for consistency, which then translates into a quality upon which the public can rely. This ‘quality guarantee’ could then become a key element of an airport’s brand marketing program. Consistent, high quality service should become synonymous with an ISO-certified airport.

The service “product” can be considered unsatisfactory when it fails to meet customer expectations.

ISO and Brand Management

Airports work increasingly to differentiate themselves from one another by offering unique or improved programs and services. Success in a highly competitive environment requires the perception of consistent standards in the customer’s mind.

Haphazard or erratic service detracts from brand loyalty. Building brand equity through ISO increases the perceived value, improves the customer experience, and permits an airport to dominate its market area.

ISO - What it is Not

ISO certification is not a one-time event. You must earn it every day. You do not become ‘certified’ and then set your program aside on a shelf. Adoption of ISO processes represents an organization’s continuing commitment to quality. Periodic external program audits verify that commitment to the world.

ISO is not about being perfect all of the time. Perfect organizations have no need for benchmarks — nor a process for maintaining them. ISO exists so that less than quality performance can be identified and corrected as quickly as possible, at the lowest level possible.

ISO is not a criterion-based standard but rather a process-based one. Organizations develop their own unique quality benchmarks or objectives and then utilize an ISO process to maintain these objectives.

ISO quality standards are not standards in the sense that they mandate strict compliance with some generic quality program. Rather, ISO quality assurance standards are a total quality system for your overall organizational processes.

ISO standards are not a measure of an organization’s efficiency, per se, but rather an indication of both how well and how consistently that organization meets the needs of all its customers. If some higher level of efficiency is achieved as a result, so much the better.

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