As hangar doors were being closed by the ground staff, an airline pilot noticed the tail of a Beechcraft 1900D sticking out. Steve McNeilly, the pilot, recalls alerting the staff just in time to prevent the doors being closed on the tail. His awareness and the reaction by ground personnel prevented serious damage to the aircraft, commonly called “hangar rash.”
A safety management system (SMS) and other tools can be used to identify and address potential hangar rash hazards.
“The first challenge is accepting that none of us are perfect, and we can all do better when it comes to safety management,” says Terry Yeomans, program director for the International Standard for Business Aircraft Handling (IS-BAH).
IS-BAH, developed by the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC), is a set of global industry best practices for business aviation ground handlers.
Yeomans says towing should be a top safety concern of ground service providers.
“From the limited data IBAC has collected over recent years through its IS-BAH program, we can identify that towing is a causal factor in 29 percent of the approximately 2,500 aircraft damage events captured,” he says.
One of the approaches championed during the IBAC's Fundamentals of IS-BAH Workshop is for ground handling service providers to consider breaking down day-to-day activities into bite-sized pieces. Looking at towing, Yeomans says ground service providers should consider different scenarios where towing events are likely to play a part in the role of handling an aircraft. They could include towing an aircraft to or from a hangar or moving aircraft within the hangar.
Then, he says consider hazards, risks, control measures and communication.
- Hazards – "Anything that has the potential to cause harm can be considered hazards, Yeomans explains. These could include extreme weather, congested ramp (environment), new aircraft type, new tow vehicles (equipment), new staff, fatigued staff, complacency, trained and qualified staff, time pressures (people), correct procedures (systems). Pick two hazards and consider which one concerns you the most.
- Risks – From the hazard that concerns you the most, he says think of the risks (likelihood and severity) that arise from that hazard. Pick two risks and consider which one you believe you should deal with soonest.
- Control Measures – What can you put in place that could mitigate the risk and reduce its likelihood and/or severity, if anything?
- Communication — How do you pass those mitigation measures down the chain? Through training, bulletins or what other ways?
After assessing hazards, risks, control measures and communication, Yeomans encourages ground service providers to review their findings. Then consider how often a crew might need to review the measures put in place for effectiveness while looking for any unintended consequences.
“Taking a piece-by-piece approach like this allows you to concentrate on what is important for you at your location. Set appropriate targets and measure your performance against them,” Yeomans says. “These become your safety performance indicators (SPIs) that then can be seen to directly link to your top safety concerns and address your safety objectives.”
Brandon Popovich, manager of safety training at the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), emphasizes prevention starts prior to the movement.
“A pre-tow meeting conducted by the tow team is a place that the movement can be discussed prior to assumptions being made,” he explains. “The tow team lead, usually the tug driver but not always, discusses the aircraft movement including route to be taken, obstacles to be considered and final aircraft position. This meeting is brief and is usually conducted in a few short sentences.”
Other key prevention factors, according to Popovich are a positive attitude and understanding of the movement.
“Involving the team during a risk assessment can reveal some areas of concern that may have not been known,” he continues. “Identifying these risks and implementing new or adjusted strategies could eliminate or reduce the risk of hangar rash incidents. Use of wing walkers and, when conditions require it, a tail walker; implementation of safety barriers within hangars; adjusting policies and procedures such as removing gear placement carpets prior to placing an aircraft in a hangar are examples of risks that could be identified using an SMS.”
Commenting further on the removal of gear placement carpets, Popovich says, “the carpets are distractions. Removing the carpets prior to placing an aircraft in a hangar eliminates that distraction and places the focus on the aircraft, the wing walkers and/or obstacles.”
Improving safety performance allows ground service providers to reduce out-of-pocket costs for small hangar-rash type accidents, eliminate one or more insurance deductible payments and ultimately lower premiums. An SMS provides a data-driven approach to safety that will positively affect your bottom line, according to NATA officials.
McNeilly, the pilot who prevented the hangar doors from being closed on the Beechcraft tail, today is an airline captain and A&P mechanic. He and Mike Partin, an A&P mechanic and previous FBO general manager and USAF mechanic, are co-founders of HangarStack and have prevented many more hangar rash incidents. They developed the HangarStack software to reduce hangar rash risks. In terms of solving problems of aircraft movement, Partin calls this “Airplane Tetris,” similar to the video game Tetris.
“It truly is about reducing risk, as risk introduces cost and the possibility of injury,” Partin says. HangarStack also maximizes hangar space and revenue for the hangar owner/operator and the software is designed with those goals in mind.
Looking again at the Beechcraft hangar door incident, McNeilly says the airplane was not positioned in the hangar at the proper angle and the tail was protruding. He notes how critical aircraft positioning is, combined with the complexities of a high T-tail.
“Determining aircraft movements by looking at the space horizontally is very inefficient,” McNeilly says. “It’s like driving from A to B without ever looking at a map — it doesn’t make sense. Likewise, it doesn’t make sense to move and stack aircraft without a plan. HangarStack enables that planning process.”
When Partin was the general manager for an FBO outside of Chicago, he recalls when a brand-new G550 froze overnight outside on the ramp.
Partin’s line supervisor had told him there wasn’t any room in the hangar, but when Partin walked in the hangar, he saw room in the center of the hangar.
“This was a costly mistake and bad judgement on my line service staff’s part and also most of the reason HangarStack was born,” Partin says. Before leaving work that night, he created a layout using HangarStack to show exactly how the aircraft would fit.
“No more excuses,” he says. “It only takes a few minutes to plan how the aircraft are going to be moved using HangarStack. Moving aircraft without first having a plan increases the risk of damaging aircraft and ruining customer relationships and business credibility. There are hundreds of programs/software in use today that help FBOs run efficiently, however, many operations do not consider ground handling which is surprising because the majority of aircraft damages happen while the aircraft is being towed on the ramp or into a hangar.”
NATA’s Safety 1st Training Center (SFTC) offers an aircraft towing program that covers aircraft towing basics. Additionally, there are dedicated course lessons for both tug and tow-bar, and towbarless aircraft towing. For those operations seeking a personal touch for their specific training, NATA offers onsite training. An instructor comes to the NATA member’s location and conducts personalized training for their operation.
For SMS training, NATA has Air Transport Safety Manager (ATSM) training offered through a partnership with the Transportation Safety Institute (TSI).
“The instructors at TSI are industry professionals with the credentials and experience the industry needs,” Popovich says. “From retired military safety pilots to other safety professionals from the civilian side, the talent and professionalism from TSI course instructors are highly sought after. NATA is proud of the relationship we have built with TSI.”