Ramp Safety, Security Now Center Stage
Regarding common use ramp equipment and systems, John Armbrust asks, “If it’s working inside the terminal, why can’t it work outside the terminal on the ramp?”
He and others raise the question not only to explore ways to make ramp operations more efficient and cost-manageable, but also because of the increasing concern throughout the industry about the high costs associated with ramp operations, particularly insurance and costs not covered by insurance.
Armbrust questions the current industry model which sees multimillion dollar aircraft being serviced by low-wage employees, a situation further challenged by the growth of regional jets into the ramp mix. It’s a model, he says, that is “going to break real quickly.”
NTSB’s Goglia says the agency is placing an increasing emphasis on ramp operations, and he has agreed to chair a special task force, the Airport Operations Safety Panel formed by the Armbrust Aviation Group, to study the issue.
Goglia says that airline reports to him relate that for even $1 of ramp damage to airliner aircraft, the airlines report it costs another $7 to them in indirect costs.
Robert Vandel, executive vice president of the FlightSafety Foun-dation, asks regarding ramp-related damages, “Is it a cost of doing business? I think it’s about time we debunk that.”
In fact, says Vandel, ramp damage has as its primary cause human error. Solutions to the problem need to be data-driven and systematic, and offer positive cost-benefit ratios, he says. Vandel estimates that ramp damage to the air carrier fleet costs some $4 billion annually, with another $1 billion cost to the business aircraft fleet. Those are on top of the cost of injury and death to personnel. “We want a reallocation of resources and changed behaviors,” he says.
The average cost of a ramp event, he reports, is $250,000 and airlines are often “self-insuring” these losses. Vandel says that one airline’s experience is that of 274 ramp-related claims only one was covered by insurance after the deductible. He also points out that equipment-to-equipment damage and equipment-to-facility damage is much larger than to aircraft.
Vandel says that the Foundation currently has five working teams studying ramp activities:
• Data analysis;
• Ramp facilities, equipment;
• Education and training;
• Management leadership practices; and
• Industry awareness.
Initially, says Vandel, his organization and industry should target the “low-hanging fruit.” For example, some 20 percent of aircraft damage on the ramp is to aircraft doors. Technology is now becoming available that will allow pilots to maneuver their aircraft to boarding bridges automatically by way of an infrared system being developed.
“The captain can push a button to operate the jetway,” he explains. “The application of the technology can go to other vehicles.” Such a system, he projects, could save airlines some $560 million a year worldwide.
There is also concern that ramp security is not getting the attention it deserves. David Forbes of Boyd/ Forbes points out that the threat of shoulder-fired missiles to bring down aircraft is increasing dramatically, and he says this will become both a security and safety issue for ramp activities. The “canoe-sized pod” that houses the anti-missile technology to thwart such attacks will be situated on the bottom of the fuselage, offering yet another exposure to potential damage on the ramp.
Pieter Boone, vice president of airport security for Schiphol USA, which operates Terminal 4 at JFK International Airport, says that “employee access remains a weak link in airport security.” He expresses concern that the Transportation Security Administration has pushed employee screening off its agenda and that there is “confusion on the security responsibility at airports.” He is also concerned that TSA is testing technology but not solutions.
Boone says that once all employees are fully screened prior to entering the aircraft operations area at airports, the issue of ramp security will be solved.
Regarding the concept of common use equipment and systems on the ramp, Thomas Duffy, president of Safegate Airport Systems, says that CURE systems would allow for more operations at individual gates; reduce operating costs; reduce investment; and improve flexibility.
Duffy agrees with FlightSafety Foundation’s Vandel regarding the potential for technology to improve ramp safety and reduce costs. The advent of advanced visual docking ground systems, with which his company is involved, can become critical in preventing obstacle incidents, inappropriate access to gates, and overall reduced employee exposure on the ramp.
John Chapman, a fuel industry veteran with Chapman Aviation Consulting, says overall demand for jet fuel is
growing, one of several factors that will keep prices high.
Demand is on the rise, he explains, because overall refinery capacity is down and will decrease by 1 percent in 2004. At the same time, OPEC has learned how to manage the price per barrel (ppb), keeping supply and prices in check. Instability in Venezuela adds to uncertainty, although Chapman and others are confident of there continuing to be a steady stream of product.
In 2003, according to Champman, U.S. air carriers purchased 17,794 billion gallons of fuel, a number that should increase in ‘04. He projects general aviation will use 953 million gallons of fuel this year. Jet fuel prices to carriers should hover in the 78-88 cents/gallon range throughout ‘04, he says.
“As we rely more and more on imports,” says Chapman, their growing significance will allow the countries exporting jet-A to the U.S. to have more control on the price. U.S. imports come from Asia, the Virgin Islands, Venezuela, the Netherlands Antilles, Kuwait, Taiwan, and others, he says.
Adds Chapman, “We are at a precariously low level of inventory,” which he explains could add to market volatility and price instability. “We’re going to see a significant increase in jet fuel demand.”
Officials caution that getting enough supply to the airport could be a problem
Ramping Up Ramp Safety April 2004 As many of you know, the first week in February 2004, members of NATA's Airline Services Council met in Washington, D.C. with the OSHA Directorate of...