ISAGO Update

June 30, 2009
A hot topic at the IATA Ground Operations Symposium, the safety audit program moves forward.

IATA’s Safety Audit for Ground Operations is gaining momentum throughout the industry based on strong interest and discussion at the recent IATA Ground Operations Symposium held in May. The topic arose in many different sessions throughout the day. That’s a good sign we’re building momentum and the industry is starting to see how ISAGO can add value in many areas.

ISAGO is designed for ground handling companies operating at airports. The aims of the program are simple — improving operational safety, reducing ground damage, and promoting audit efficiency. The first 50 ISAGO audits are now completed, in locations as diverse as Harare, Vilnius, Hong Kong and Beirut. And 12 ground handling companies are on the ISAGO registry, meaning that their corporate audit and at least one of their stations has been fully audited (the registry listing can be found at

ISAGO corporate audits — which focus on organization and management systems — are carried out by the same audit organisations that IATA uses for IOSA audits. At the station level, where the audits are more numerous, IATA has formed a pool of auditors drawn from existing auditors in its member airlines that would normally be doing station audits for their own airline. To date, 35 IATA member airlines have joined the pool.

Demand for ISAGO audits arises on two fronts, and it’s not always easy to find the balance. Especially in these early stages of the program, we have on the one hand the companies and stations that our pool members are listing as their priorities. On the other hand, we have ground handling companies coming to us independently and wanting ISAGO audits. Fortunately, we have a match in many instances. This issue is mainly a teething problem, and that once more airlines are in the pool, any likelihood of a ground handler not being able to be matched with a pool member airline will be greatly diminished.

Getting a new program moving during the aviation industry crisis is also a challenge. With both airlines and handlers stretched to their financial limits, the program has had to recognize these limitations. In terms of making the audit simpler for both airlines and handlers, IATA has embarked on a program to rationalize and reduce the audit standards. We are aiming to achieve the same audit result — in terms of assessing operational safety capability — but in a smaller package. The original suite of standards requires the presence of a three-person audit team on-site at a station for up to three days, depending on the scope of services offered by the handler at that station. We will be looking to shave at least 20 percent off that timeframe, with further improvement as we go along and build experience.

New Audit Cost Structure – savings for handlers
Using a pool of airline auditors to conduct station audits has enabled IATA to keep this part of the program cost-free for handlers, since the airlines doing ISAGO audits are essentially doing those audits in replacement of a regular airline station audit they would have done anyway. But with the corporate audits, IATA is currently committed to using audit organizations, and since these are commercial entities, they need to be compensated. The corporate audits occupy an audit organization auditor for just two days on-site, but with preparation, evaluation of corrective actions and close out of the audit, the total audit effort is evaluated at $5,000, which is billed to each ground handler. Corporate audits are done every two years, and even though these amounts are relatively small, IATA has found them to be an impediment for many handlers wanting to move forward with ISAGO. Accordingly, IATA has been evaluating how best to solve this problem. I was pleased to announce in Cairo that for any ground handler doing its corporate audit in the remainder of 2009, IATA will fund the $5,000, thereby removing that final cost barrier. The handler will still be responsible for the travel costs of one auditor but IATA works closely with each handler, and the auditors, to utilize available auditors with minimal travel distance.

IATA is finding it hard to keep up with the growing demand for ISAGO training. There are two categories of training. First there is the five-day training course for pool member auditors, mandatory for any auditor planning to qualify as an ISAGO auditor. Then there is the three-day training course for handlers, to help them prepare for their ISAGO audit. This latter course is run in key IATA locations and is also offered “in-company,” an option that is growing in popularity. Details of the schedule of all ISAGO training courses are available on the Web site

Just as IATA is singularly well placed to run a global safety audit program for ground handlers, so too is it well placed to start to get a handle on ground accident and incident data collection and analysis. Over the years, there have been several attempts to get a global perspective, but no one has yet succeeded. IATA has had a data analysis task force working in parallel with the ISAGO program development, consisting of airlines, handlers, regulators and the insurance industry. Additionally, organizations such as Flight Safety Foundation, and the International Aviation Handlers Association (IAHA) have been highly supportive and have committed data to the exercise. All are agreed that the project needs to go beyond just the collection and categorization of accident and incident data, to look more deeply as to why these things are happening — the “why” in addition to the “what.” The ISAGO data exercise is being integrated with the IATA-wide Global Safety Information Centre, now under development.

Insurance Benefit
Having the insurance industry involved since the outset of the program is already paying dividends. Insurers have a natural interest in any program that could reduce ground damage, and hence claims. Because of that close cooperation, ISAGO provides a unique opportunity for the industry to bundle its aviation insurance buying via an insurance program. This program is now being finalized, and ground service providers that are ISAGO-registered will be eligible for the program. Participants will be eligible for increased market presence, lower premiums, better coverage and better claims handling.

Full backing of the IATA Board
At its meeting in Kuala Lumpur on June 7, the IATA Board of Governors reiterated its support of the ISAGO program. The board noted with satisfaction the progress of this important safety program. With the IATA board support, we believe that the pool membership will now increase, and more handlers will come on board. Programs such as this don’t go from birth to maturity overnight. More pool members are coming on board, and more handlers are signing up. The synergies start to build exponentially.

2009 Targets
The IATA board has set a target of 80 audits to be achieved in 2009, and we are confident this will be met. The mix is different to what we were expecting — we’re doing more individual companies and smaller numbers of stations for each company. But we see this as a success factor in its own right, demonstrating the global diversity of ISAGO.