RAA: Enhancing Ramp Safety

May 2, 2006
"The industry is doing well, but faces significant challenges to remain successful."

The regional airline industry has grown significantly in the last five years, but our fundamentals have remained the same. While we now operate predominantly regional jet aircraft, we still bring passengers from small- and medium-size communities to larger cities and the hubs, using aircraft that are appropriately sized for the market. Code sharing has remained a critical factor in our success, with today’s regional airlines transporting 99 percent of their passengers on flights operated in partnership with a major or national airline. Providing the highest level of safety for our passengers and employees—and continuing the industry’s impressive safety record—continues to be our most important priority.

Where are we today? The industry is doing well, but faces significant challenges to remain successful. The same problems challenging the major carriers also affect regional airlines. These include excessive taxation, the increased financial and operational security burden and employee wage, benefit and work rule expectations—which are sometimes inconsistent with the underlying economics of our business. Add to those factors the significant increase in fuel prices, which for many airlines has virtually eliminated the great strides made in recent years to reduce operating costs.

Despite these challenges and to the credit of our more than 55,000 employees and our ground support vendor partners, the industry continues to increase its prominence in the US air transportation system. Currently, one out of every five domestic passengers travels on a regional carrier. In 2005, approximately 150 million passengers flew on a regional airline, traveling to one of the 664 destinations served by the industry in the United States. Our aircraft account for about 40 percent of domestic air carrier operations and the industry serves 98 percent of the airports in the United States with commercial airline service. Some may be surprised to learn that 73 percent of communities with scheduled air service rely exclusively on regional airlines for access to the national air transportation system.

One of Regional Airline Associations’ most important priorities for 2006 is enhancing ramp safety. In 2005, many regional carriers experienced losses totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars when the cost of aircraft fleet damage and personnel injuries are aggregated. Constrained ramp space, short turnaround times, reduced ground staff and turnover of trained personnel are all problems faced by regional airlines and our ground handling partners. But RAA’s Ramp Safety Working Group is developing tools that will assist airlines in meeting these challenges. Under the excellent leadership of Air Canada Jazz’s Brent Boden, this group has already created a template for organizing and conducting effective station safety meetings.

The template incorporates six sigma principles in describing how ramp managers can work with their staff to discuss the critical factors affecting ramp operations and identify factors that will enhance safety and efficiency. The Working Group will meet on May 25, meeting during the RAA Convention in Dallas, Texas to continue to develop strategies for addressing human factor issues and enhancing ramp safety.

RAA is not alone in recognizing and addressing this critical issue. We are pleased to be working with the Flight Safety Foundation on their Ground Accident Prevention (GAP) program. RAA is also coordinating our efforts with the Air Transport Association’s Ramp Safety and Human Factors working groups.

Regional airlines have succeeded despite very difficult economic times. Our strengths—a commitment to the highest level of safety, the right equipment, excellent employees and committed ground service vendor partners—play well into the new reality of the airline business.

Future success, critical to the economies of hundreds of cities throughout the United States, will require continued work to reduce aircraft damage and personnel injuries while keeping our costs in check. It sounds simple, but we all know the challenges we face in continuing our safe, high-quality, low-cost approach. Achieving this goal will require hard work and the partnership of our employees, ground support vendor partners and airport personnel. Working together, we can make a difference!

Thanks again for your work each day to make regional airline operations safe, efficient and cost effective.