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.

For the airport operator, ISO is not a static, inflexible international standard imposed on widely differing organizations; instead, ISO provides a standardized process that makes quality systems an integral part of the organization. A successful ISO organization is one that grows, evolves, and adapts to customer needs at an airport.

ISO is not a marketing gimmick based on a hollow commitment to quality standards. ISO certification, if viewed simply as a “square” to fill in order to achieve some perceived level of status in the industry, ultimately undermines the standard and achieves nothing.

Internal, External Customers

ISO acknowledges the importance of satisfying the quality expectations of both internal and external customers. Whether ensuring prompt, high quality repair of facility work orders or consistent delivery of superior services to passengers and tenants, the ISO process can perform equally well Properly executed, ISO understands the relationship between interdepartmental quality performance and the end user. ISO 9000 standards are a total quality system for your organization.

What’s it Have to do With Airports?

In terms of quality, anything that can be measured can be managed: customer satisfaction surveys, bond ratings, environmental compliance, certification inspections, risk management, and utility costs are just a few areas that lend themselves to quality measurement.

Airport operators are well aware of the need for standards, as evidenced by the acceptance of the Accredited Airport Executive designation.

In a sense, ISO certification of an airport, like accreditation of an individual, is a symbol of professionalism and an internationally recognized symbol of commitment to quality. Airports will discover that benchmarking based on industry best practices is the first step in performance measurement.

An excellent data source for inclusion in an ISO program is the IATA/ACI-developed AETRA program. Member airports provide passenger feedback questionnaires to a representative sample of travelers at departure gates; the resulting data is then analyzed, compared to industry benchmarks, and reports provided to airport management quarterly.

Safety Management System

Much of the ISO process centers around documenting what you do then conducting internal and external audits to ensure you’re maintaining your quality goals. Empowering staff to promptly take corrective action to ‘fix’ slipping quality is essential to maintaining an organization’s quality credibility.

An added benefit of applying ISO at your airport is its relevance to an impending ICAO requirement for implementation of a Safety Management System, or SMS. SMS is a fundamentally new way of managing aviation safety. An SMS parallels the ISO process in a number of ways, from detailed written procedures, assessment of deficiencies, and periodic audits to ensure compliance.

Safety Management Systems are based on the premise that there will always be hazards and risks, so proactive management is needed to identify and control them before they lead to accidents. SMS requires creation of an internal system of oversight to ensure the safe provision of aerodrome services. The expected result: Fostering a stronger safety culture within the civil aviation industry through this requirement resulting in the improvement of safety practices and reduced risk and the human and financial costs associated with them.

The basic elements of an SMS include:

  • Plan

  • Identify Hazards

  • Analyze Risk

  • Categorize, Communicate Risk

  • Decide Mitigation Path

ICAO has mandated that, effective November 2005, all signatory States Civil Aviation Authorities put into place a safety management system at certificated aerodromes under their control, with a view to ensuring that operations are carried out in a demonstrably controlled way and are improved where necessary. Periodic audits would be required.

Managing safety through creation of and compliance with an SMS could either be part of or an extension of an airport’s ISO program.

Finally, ISO permits an airport operator to get a handle on that sometimes nebulous quality called ‘service’ and take action to affect positive change. For more information, visit or

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