“I Say GO!” – IATA’s Safety Audit for Ground Operations – ISAGO – set for launch in early 2008

Posted: 28 September 2007 | Mike O’Brien | No comments yet

Bringing all the various elements together for a successful launch of a ground-breaking, global safety audit programme is no easy task. But IATA’s Director of Programme Implementation/Auditing, Mike O’Brien, has a successful track record, having managed the launch of IATA’s Operational Safety Audit programme (IOSA) since 2003.

Bringing all the various elements together for a successful launch of a ground-breaking, global safety audit programme is no easy task. But IATA’s Director of Programme Implementation/Auditing, Mike O’Brien, has a successful track record, having managed the launch of IATA’s Operational Safety Audit programme (IOSA) since 2003.

We have a small and highly dedicated team and just when we thought we were creating some breathing space with IOSA, along came another opportunity. This was too good an opportunity to pass up. IATA’s Ground Damage Prevention Programme had already highlighted the fact that ground accidents cause serious personal injuries and cost airlines billions of dollars in aircraft damage each year. Whilst it can be shown that many ground handling companies have exemplary track records, regrettably many others do not meet these standards. Development of a common set of globally applicable operating standards, coupled with an audit programme to assess conformity with those standards, seemed to be a logical solution to promote a more consistent safety performance level and to better promote a risk management approach.

Safety is at the heart of the programme, but there are also huge efficiency gains to be made. Airlines expend enormous amounts of resources annually in carrying out audits of their ground service suppliers at all of their stations. While it could be argued that such audits make good business sense, in many aviation regulatory environments, Europe being a good example, airlines are required to conduct such audits. There are thousands of them taking place every year. Not only do the airlines execute the audits, but the ground service providers have to receive the audits and respond to them. On both sides, it is an inefficient use of valuable resources.

Programme basics

At the heart of ISAGO is a Standards Manual being developed by IATA with the support of many industry specialists from both airlines and ground service providers. These ISAGO Standards Task Forces have recently been joined by an additional Task Force dedicated to the collation and analysis of safety data related to ground accidents and incidents. Many parties are contributing data, most notably the Flight Safety Foundation, which has contributed data acquired from its Ground Accident Prevention (GAP) programme.

ISAGO standards are classified into 10 different categories: Organisation and Management Systems (OMS), Airside Management and Safety (AMS), Passenger Handling (PAX), Baggage Handling (BAG), Cargo and Mail Handling (CGM), Aircraft Handling and Loading (HDL), Load Control (LOD), Aircraft Catering and Servicing (CAT), Aircraft Fuelling (FUL), Aircraft De/Anti-icing (DEI). Each audit will be tailored to the type of activities being undertaken by the ground service provider to be audited.

The paper checklists and clipboards of old will be nowhere to be seen when the time comes to do the audits. Each audit will be configured on an electronic audit management platform, which enables each auditor to access not only the actual standards and checklists, but any additional guidance and reference material that might be needed. The lead auditor will then bring each of the elements together from all auditors, into a final report. The same software platform will then be used to manage the corrective action phase of the audit, allowing both the auditor and the auditee to resolve findings via the Web. This electronic platform has worked well for us in IOSA as it promotes consistency, efficiency, security and ease of handling of audit reports.

During the important standards development phase, lasting until mid-September 2007, other aspects of the programme are also being finalised. This includes the very important question of who will actually conduct ISAGO audits. Various models were evaluated, including the use of external parties accredited by IATA, as is the case with the IOSA programme. But such an arrangement would have meant a commercial transaction between such a party and every ground service provider being audited. With many ground handling companies having a multiplicity of individual airport stations, such an arrangement would have been cumbersome to manage and for the ground service providers, financially burdensome.

The adopted solution sees the formation of a pool of auditors, drawn from existing airline resources conducting such audits, to carry out audits at the station level. Unlike existing audit programmes, ISAGO audits will be conducted at the Headquarters level also. Here there will most likely be a role for both audit organisations, with their particular skills in auditing, organisation and management systems (which will be the basis of the HQ-level audit) and for airlines, in order to provide continuity with the station audits.

Assembling and managing such a pool will be a significant undertaking in its own right. But again, IATA has a track record of managing pool audits with both the IATA Fuel Quality Pool (IFQP) and De/Anti-icing Quality Control Pool (DAQCP). This pool management experience will be valuable as the ISAGO Pool will bring its own nuances and complexity, most notably the sheer scale of the number of audits we will need to programme. Ultimately, we see the potential not only to bring the management of these pool programmes together, but to see how best to integrate the standards and the programmes themselves with ISAGO.

Auditor Training

IATA’s Training and Development Institute is active already in developing what will be the core training component – the ISAGO Auditor Training Course. This course will be designed to take experienced ground auditors and familiarise them with the ISAGO principles, practices and standards. No such course exists at the moment, which highlights yet again the inconsistent approach taken thus far to ground auditing. Having all ISAGO auditors working to a common standard and philosophy will be a great improvement. The ISAGO Programme Manual will also lay down strict pre-requisites for ISAGO auditors, which will include not only successful completion of this training course, but also conducting initial audits under the supervision of an Evaluator, before being released to ‘fly solo’.

Training for ground service providers on ISAGO generally and on the standards themselves, can also be developed quickly if found necessary. In any case, IATA plans to conduct a number of Regional seminars in 2008 highlighting the benefits of ISAGO in an interactive workshop format.

Trial Audits

The level of co-operation between the various industry players in ISAGO development, is perhaps best highlighted by the success in planning a programme of trial audits. These trial audits are designed to assess the ‘auditability’ of the standards that have been devised, how long an audit will last, how many auditors are required and any other key aspect of the audit structure. Completing these trials in the October to December timeframe will enable any last-minute changes and improvements to be incorporated prior to the first real ISAGO audits in March 2008. There are a good number of ground service providers volunteering both Headquarters and Airport Stations to be audited. We have airlines contributing auditors to actually conduct the trial audits and we have airport authorities keen to see the activity take place on their premises. In fact, we have more offers than we have resources and time to conduct trial audits.

Regulatory Authorities

Unlike areas of higher focus, such as Flight Safety, there is comparatively little in the way of government regulation for ground handling activities. Traditionally, the responsibility for the safety oversight of ground handling companies is devolved to the airlines themselves, who are held accountable. But with inconsistencies in approach with this method, in different regulatory regimes, global harmonisation – much less safety improvement – cannot be achieved. It’s not surprising therefore that interest in ISAGO is coming from many regulators and from the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organisation itself.

The concept of industry-led audit programmes, delivering safety improvement opportunities that regulators can take advantage of, has been pioneered in IOSA. At the last ICAO Assembly, in the Resolution on Safety Oversight, States were encouraged to make use of all available data, such as that from IOSA, in the execution of their safety oversight responsibilities. In the 2007 Assembly, IATA again will position ISAGO as a programme delivering opportunities for States. But it doesn’t take an ICAO Assembly for forward-thinking States to recognise a good idea and act on it. We have had great involvement and support from a number of key Regulatory Authorities right since we started and that support just keeps on growing.

Other authorities are gathering in support of ISAGO. Many airports have expressed interest in being involved in ISAGO and having ground handling companies at their airports go through the programme. Airports Council International is represented on the ISAGO Project Coordination Group.

Programme Launch

The team to run the ISAGO programme will be put in place in late 2007, well in time to prepare for the first audits in March 2008. As to how many audits might be conducted in 2008, it is still a matter for conjecture. We believe that the programme has the potential to go ‘exponential’ quite quickly. It will take just one or two of the multi-nationals to say ‘Do all my stations’ and we could quickly run into large figures indeed. ISAGO also is looking at an initial annual audit frequency for station audits, so the first recurrent audits will come around quite quickly. The production side of the house will need to stay focused to deliver and we will also need to ensure our quality assurance and quality control resources are up to the mark.

About the author

Mike joined IATA in 1987. Currently, Mike coordinates all activities related to the implementation of the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) Programme and is now working on developing new audit programmes, in particular the IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations (ISAGO). Prior to this, Mike had led IATA’s activities related to consultation with airport authorities worldwide, to achieve safe, efficient, cost-effective and capacity-balanced airport facilities.

Before joining IATA, Mike worked from 1981 to 1987 with the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department. From 1972 to 1981, he worked with the Australian Department of Civil Aviation. In both locations, he worked on airport planning and development projects.

Mike holds a Bachelor degree in Civil Engineering, and a Masters degree in Environmental Engineering, both from the University of Melbourne.

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