Improving safety standards for ground handling

Posted: 11 September 2006 | Mike O’Brien, Director – Operational Safety Audit Programme, International Air Transport Association (IATA) | No comments yet

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that ground damage costs airlines US$4 billion per year. Mike O’Brien reports on efforts to reduce the cost 50% by 2010 through the Ground Damage Prevention Programme (GDPP).

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that ground damage costs airlines US$4 billion per year. Mike O’Brien reports on efforts to reduce the cost 50% by 2010 through the Ground Damage Prevention Programme (GDPP).

One of the pillars of the GDPP, launched in 2005, is the development of the IATA registration programme for ground service providers (GSPs). This is based on the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) framework. The IOSA programme for airlines was established in mid-2003 with the twin aims of improving operational safety and driving down the number of redundant audits. It achieves these aims by having:

  • Globally agreed and harmonised standards
  • Highly qualified Audit and Training Organizations, accredited by IATA
  • Aggressive quality assurance programmes
  • Effective and consistent programme management by IATA

Under IOSA, once an airline has been audited to the IOSA standards, corrected any findings and been placed on the IOSA Registry, any airline that would have needed to conduct an audit on that airline no longer has to do so – it just accesses the IOSA Report.

The establishment of a GSP audit programme would achieve these same aims of improved safety capability and audit reduction. The programme would do for ground handling service providers what IOSA has done for airlines. It will establish a worldwide benchmark and standard for ground operations. At present, there is no single set of standards. GSPs globally are subjected to multiple audits from their airline customers, since there is little or no sharing of the results of audits undertaken on the same GSP. This creates an inefficient environment.

The GSP audit programme will improve the minimum set of operational standards that GSPs currently achieve by establishing an accreditation process specific to ground operations. It will achieve the improved safety standards sought by government authorities, airlines and service providers and will reduce auditing costs.

IATA has obtained all internal approvals needed for the launch of the development phase of a GSP audit programme. A project manager will be assigned and a simple governance structure will be established involving task forces, as required, to assist in the identification of standards to be included in the programme. Participants are expected to come from airlines, ground handling companies, specialised service providers and government agencies.

The IATA Airport Handling Manual (AHM) will be used as a source for many of the standards. Airlines and service providers have contributed to the development of these standards through existing IATA working groups. Operational risk and safety management systems will be integral components of the audit programme, which will ensure senior management involvement in safety management.

Much of the structure from the successful IOSA Programme – including the involvement of existing accredited audit organisations – will be usable, with little modification, in the GSP audit programme.

Registration will be achieved by means of an audit. Audit organisations (AOs) that are certified to conduct IOSA audits for airlines have shown strong interest in gaining accreditation to conduct audits on ground service providers. IATA will develop a training programme to ascertain that these companies are competent in the audit standards and that the audit methodology is uniform. IATA will maintain a strict quality control system to ensure the integrity of the audits and the programme.

A growing number of ground handling companies have already demonstrated strong interest in this scheme. This proactive approach will set the pace for the industry. In the coming weeks and months, IATA will begin the work to compile, develop and agree the standards on which the registration will be based. The benefits for GSPs include:

  • Improved operational safety capability, leading to fewer accidents and injuries
  • The uniformity of the audit process as opposed to numerous and varying audits from different companies
  • A reduction in the overall number of audits
  • Cost savings through fewer accidents, fewer audits and less time spent on audits
  • Enhanced company image/reputation – GSPs that achieve Registration under this programme will be making a clear commitment to international standards and improving safety.

Airlines that strive to maintain the highest level of operational safety will also benefit. Improved operational safety amongst ground service providers and simplified audit processes will lead to cost reduction and improved efficiency.

As operational safety is improved, companies that have achieved registration will be in a position to approach their insurance providers to review the company’s safety performance from an objective standpoint. Although this part of the equation is yet undefined, IATA is working with all primary aviation insurance companies, brokers and underwriters to obtain their input, with a view to providing better insurance rates to those companies with proven, improved safety performance records.

The project will be conducted over the next 12 months, with the first phase leading to the development of the standards against which companies are to be audited. Once all the standards are compiled, the project will focus on the operational model. The AOs will be trained in the specifics of the registration and the audit standards during the second quarter of 2007. The actual audits will begin upon project completion. It is anticipated that the first certificates will be delivered in Q3/Q4 2007. The duration and complexity of the audit will not be known until the complete set of standards is agreed and established.

Mike O’Brien

Mike O’Brien joined IATA in 1987. Currently, he coordinates all activities related to the implementation of the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) Programme. 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.

Prior to 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.

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