Change Agent

June 1, 2002
Guest Editorial


Newly retired Norman Hogwood reflects on his decades devoted to aviation safety and offers that there is still much work to be done

By Norman Hogwood

June/July 2002

I have just retired after nearly half a century in the aviation world and if ever there was an understatement uttered it is surely when people say, "You must have seen a few changes."

The changes themselves have been amazing but the most spectacular has to be the staggering pace with which they have happened. To exemplify this one only has to consider that when my career began, pure jet airliners were still on the drawing board!

Forty-one of the 47 years were spent with a national carrier with a comprehensive domestic and international route network and were mainly very enjoyable, but easily the most interesting were the 27 years in its Safety Department. And, in that department, I had what is still the rather unique and sometimes misunderstood responsibility of being the person responsible for looking after ground safety.

Probably the most common question asked of those of us engaged is this rather rare occupation is "What exactly do you do?"

When I began my safety career, the various Occupational Safety and Health-type activities were housed in the Personnel (HR) offices and the legislation was relatively weak. Slowly, people began to appreciate that staff injuries, and damage to aircraft and equipment had an impact on the bottom line. This led to an understanding that specialist staff with a disciplined and investigative approach to loss control were needed, and that their reporting line in the organisations structure should reflect their independence from the influences of line management. So, being a one-man-band, my response to that question was to the effect that I tried to ensure that staff wore their safety footwear, that there was no FOD on the ramp, and that the company was adequately prepared to react to a serious aircraft accident.

The major changes in the industry during the safety side of my career have obviously been in the field of aircraft and their ground support equipment. A couple of trolleys and a farm tractor were, literally, all that some operators needed to service the DC-3's in their fleet. Even the advent of turbo-props and the first of the pure jets did not have much of an impact on ground servicing equipment. The really enormous changes came with the introduction of the wide-body aircraft, and the challenges posed by that will be re-visited when the A380 looms over the horizon. Where to from there? Who knows, but as long as technology of the equipment can keep pace with that of the aircraft it will not matter.

The global revolution in occupational health and safety in the 1960's and 70's resulted in a new profession — the OSH specialist. The employment of these people left the what I call "pure" ground safety person the time to audit the huge variety of ground-based tasks within the industry and to investigate incidents and accidents.

The safety of flight has improved out of all recognition but all around the world, the industry has a very long way to go before it can be satisfied with its entire safety efforts. It has a very poor personal injury record, and equipment and aircraft damage is escalating to outrageous proportions; the latter to the tune of an estimated $US4 billion per annum! One estimate is that there is an aircraft in a hangar every day of the year somewhere in the world undergoing repair to "ramp rash." Personally, I believe that figure is conservative.

No industry can survive when bleeding dollars and this one has suffered enough, both at the hands of extremists in recent times, and through its failure to arrest its poor efforts at loss control. The investments are vast and the safety net to protect them must be proportionally as large. There is still much work to be done.


About the author: Norman Hogwood retired in May 2002 as Safety Investigator — Ramp for Air New Zealand and was based at Auckland International Airport. He was a founder member of the Australasian Aviation Ground Safety Council (and served as its first Council Chair; member of International Air Transport Section of the US National Safety Council, where he served as General Chair, 1988-1990. Hogwood helped to form the New Zealand Dangerous Goods Air Transport Council as well as the development of compliance functions and materials for the Star Alliance's safety audit program. He is now a consultant with AeroGround Safety Services Ltd. at Auckland International Airport and can be reached via email at