Safety Through Cooperation

June 21, 2005
The culture of aviation and ramp safety has long since been a topic of discussion in our industry. Although safety is dependent upon communication, performance and maintenance, many agree that cooperation is the key.

The culture of aviation and ramp safety has long since been a topic of discussion in our industry. Although safety is dependent upon communication, performance and maintenance, many agree that cooperation is the key.

Cooperation is necessary among the entire community of individuals on the ramp; including but certainly not exclusive to GSE and ramp operation managers, line workers, technicians, mechanics, flight crew, etc. This being said and with safety being such an importunate topic, shouldn't the industry be working together in every way possible to benchmark numbers and bring standards to fruition?

Over the past two years, the Flight Safety Foundation (FSF); the International Air Transport Association (IATA); the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), in conjunction with the Airline Services Council (ASC-an arm of NATA) and the Airport Operations Safety Panel (AOSP - formed by the Armbrust Aviation Group with the assistance of John Goglia, former member of NTSB) and others, have all heightened and concentrated efforts on ramp safety and the development of industry standards for ramp operations. However, the same cooperation necessary for a safety culture on the ground does not seem to be occurring among the organizations attempting to forge a comprehensive Safety Management System (SMS).

The interested parties do agree on what many of the issues are regarding ramp damage and incursions. For instance, all agree there has been a paradigm shift over the past three decades and there is the need for increased attention regarding ramp incidents. What once was considered "hanger rash" and "the cost of doing business" during the barnstorming days is now a more serious form of the "disease" costing the industry nearly four billion a year. It is also agreed that the primary cause is believed to be human error and solutions need to be data driven.

Who's Saying and Doing What?

For nearly sixty years, the Flight Safety Foundation's (FSF) mission has been to pursue the continuous improvement of global aviation safety and the prevention of accidents. One of the stated purposes of FSF is for "the aviation industry to be able to meet in a noncompetitive environment to identify safety concerns, determine solutions and implement ideas and actions to improve safety." The 57th IASS reported by Flight Safety Foundation's Executive Director Robert Vandel, states that the "assault on apron damage and human injury [must begin] not only by obtaining data but by looking at such things as management oversight, training deficiencies, language difficulties and fatigue, as areas where we can begin this effort. By accepting the premise that human error is the primary cause of apron damage, it mandates that we specifically identify an error taxonomy that has identifiable and measurable parameters."

It makes perfect sense, given the FSF organizational goals, that they should be the "neutral umbrella" in leading an international effort to bring all of these organizations together, according to Vandel. "The FSF does not have the parochial interest. If you look at NBAA, they are interested in solving it [ramp incursions] for the corporate operator, good for them; they have done the work, let's use it. NATA is looking at insurance data. IATA is looking at the air carrier, good work, let's use it. But who's taking care of the non-IATA airlines?" questions Vandel.

As of the March IASS report, the FSF has in development several tools to assist in reducing ramp damage. In conjunction with NATA, FSF is designing a web-based GAP (Ground Accident Prevention) e-Tool; a ground safety focused toolset that will provide the industry safety-related successes, solutions and best practices in the aviation apron community.

Another tool under development is an Operating Safety Procedures (OSP) template document which covers key topics and innovations associated with apron servicing (aircraft turnaround - loading/unloading). According to Vandel, the "OSP is considered an industry model document and covers a wide industry audience including airlines, freight/cargo, business/corporate aviation, regional, re-fuellers, caterers, etc."

FSF has also identified new technologies such as Indal Technology's automated passenger bridge system which can dramatically reduce damage due to human error. These technologies are new solutions being introduced to enhance safety and improve operational efficiencies.

Finally, FSF is in the process of determining the cost of these accidents to the industry and their associated indirect costs. Their plans call for a tool where by an organization sustaining apron damage can input several key items and get a complete costing for the accident. Yet, IATA and NATA are in the midst of a similar benchmarking process.

International Air Transport Association (IATA) represents approximately 265 airlines comprising 94 percent of international scheduled air traffic. Its mission is to act as a vehicle for inter-airline cooperation in promoting safe, reliable, secure and economical services.

In December 2003, the IATA board of governors implemented the Ground Damage Prevention Program (GDPP) based on figures similar to Flight Safety foundation's estimate of four billion dollars spent by airlines in repairing aircraft following ground damage. They decided to launch a program to address the issue from two different angles: 1) preventative actions that can be taken to reduce ground damage and, 2) what can be done to assist airlines in recovering uninsured costs resulting from ground damage.

According to Lorne Riley, manager of corporate communications in Geneva, the major element of the program is the implementation of voluntary Safety Management Systems (SMS) certification program for ground handling companies or airports providing ground services, similar to IOSA (IATA Operation and Safety Audit), which currently exists for the airlines. The target set by the board is a 10 percent reduction in ground damage for 2005 and a reduction by 50 percent by 2010. Like the other agencies, IATA views this as an industry-wide initiative that should involve all of the stakeholders including airport authorities, ground handling companies, airlines and GSE manufacturers. Also like the other agencies, IATA believes they might be "in a slightly better position to implement measures to reduce the damage" using data gathered by different stakeholders in the industry.

The overall goals for National Air Transportation Association (NATA) and Airline Services Council (ASC) combined are to effectively unite the smaller companies that depend on general aviation for their livelihood and to further the interests of companies that provide ground handling services to scheduled air carriers. NATA interfaces with Congress and federal government agencies that impact aviation, including the Flight Safety Foundation, providing its members with the necessary recognition for "a segment of aviation that has been well off the radar screen [in Washington DC] and working to increase profitability by lowering operation costs," according to James Coyne, president.

NATA/ASC have also announced the ambitious objective to cut losses by more than 50 percent, thus hoping to cut insurance a comparable amount, by implementing a Safety Management System (SMS). The five components to the SMS are: 1) get senior management to "buy into the program" of supporting a new safety culture, 2) create and implement a SMS, 3) data collection - work with the insurance providers to determine a root/cause analysis by developing a database containing information from the last 5-10 years regarding injuries and losses, 4) develop a recurrent ‘complacency-fighting' internet safety management training (SMT) program with the assistance of SH&E International Air Transport Consultancy (the first phase of which is the GAP e-Toolkit and ‘webinars'), which are currently available and 5) set up an audit system.

Coyne believes this should be a proactive, voluntary and private initiative to "meet the standards of professionalism that the industry needs to be successful to grow [business] and to reduce costs." He would like "the SMS mentality to be uniformly embraced across the entire industry in a consistent and similar way" by incorporating all five elements with one common team. But when asked about the other agencies that are pursuing similar benchmarking and SMS objectives, Coyne commented, "They have all said they are doing it, but frankly none of them are yet ... and we are. We believe in getting things done and we don't wait for the bureaucracy."

The Airport Operations Safety Panel (AOSP) was formed to raise industry awareness on the current state of airport operations safety, identify areas of concern, seek solutions and make recommendations, according to the 15-member panel representing various sectors of the industry. They include the DFW Int'l Airport, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Flight Safety Foundation (FSF), Qantas Airways, United Airlines, Shell Aviation, Armbrust Aviation Group, and Air BP, among others.

In June 2004, their Report on the Safety of Airport Operations concluded the industry could "save billions annually in uninsured costs associated with ramp accidents, injuries and delays by instituting the following recommendations":

  • Adopt a set of minimum standards for ramp operations, which is championed by airports.

  • Adopt standardized licensing, training and certification for safe vehicle operation on the ramp.

  • Work with the FAA to develop regulations requiring a runway incursion program.

  • Adopt a comprehensive, industry-wide fuel facility design standard.

  • Adopt a system operator certification program.

Though the report surmised that AOSP "lacks quantitative data to estimate an exact costs savings from the adoption of the recommendations ... the panel believes if these recommnedations are enacted, the industry would increase ramp safety; significantly reduce accidents and injuries." According to Goglia, as a result of participation in one of the aviation safety operations panels, Boston's Massport has taken the information provided by both ASOP and FSF and implemented a ramp awareness program which, in less than a year, looks like it has reduced ramp incursions by 50 percent.

An airport survey (46 airports in the US and Canada participated) requested by members of the Airport Council International (ACI) and conducted by the Armburst Aviation Group (AAG) concluded in February 2005 that "the most common complaint among airport professionals is the lack of industry standardization within airport ops" and "there are not industry-wide guidelines that encompass ramp operations."

A Puzzling Puzzle

Each agency has acquired or is in the process of acquiring a piece or pieces of information and data to assist in completing the ramp damage and safety puzzle. Each agency has insisted that they are not in competition or working against one another and they are willing to share the information. However, each agency believes they should not necessarily be the bellwether but the "umbrella" embracing all agencies and elements concerning the ramp safety benchmarking, standardization and Safety Management System initiatives. States Goglia, "I long thought that I could be a catalyst to bring them [all interested parties] to the table so that we could cooperate and work together. That goal has been illusive."

The question then remains; how can we hope to achieve the goal of setting industry standards and a corresponding SMS if the pieces are not being combined to build the same puzzle? It goes without saying that an agency or organization exists for the best interests of its members, however, when there is a common goal in which all interested parties agree should be industry-wide and benefit everyone, then why aren't we combining resources? As FSF's Vandel puts it, "The more tools we've got, the better." Now lets put them together.