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Apron safety focus for ground handling: Chris Kjelgaard explains how international agencies are working to improve airport apron safety by focusing on ground handling companies and training.

For the first time in ICAO history, the second edition of its Procedures for Air Navigation Services (PANS)--Aerodromes documentation (due for publication in 2018) will recognise apron safety procedures to be followed by ground handling services in order to improve aviation safety.

Requested by the ICAO Air Navigation Commission to focus on how improvements in ground handling procedures can further apron-safety performance, ICAO's Aerodrome Design and Operations Panel set up the Ground Handling Task Force (GHTF) which is looking at related safety issues.

Within ICAO's GHTF, Airports Council International World is working with IATA to ensure there is a sufficient body of best practice guidance for airport ground-handling procedures in the second edition of PANS - Aerodromes and to produce a new ground handling guidance manual.

The fact that, as yet, airport ground handling services and companies don't have any standards and recommended practices to follow in Annex 14--Aerodromes and Annex 19--Safety Management to the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation "is the big issue", said David Gamper, ACI World's Director of Safety and Technical, adding: "We're working closely with ICAO on that."

Safety management systems

Today, the standard formalised Annex 19--published in 2013--requires national civil aviation authorities to have a State Safety Programme in place and for these authorities also to require service providers, such as airports, airlines and air navigation companies, to have safety management systems (SMSs).

However, this requirement does not yet extend to ground handling services. This results in employees of some airports' ground handling service providers "maybe not being trained properly" in aviation safety best practices according to Mr Gamper.

"ICAO is reflecting on that for ground handlers," he said, though establishing a requirement for such services "is more difficult because there are many ground handlers". Nevertheless, ICAO probably will promulgate a requirement eventually for every ground-handling contractor to have a formal SMS and to ensure its employees are trained to perform their duties in accordance with it.

Having an SMS in place is important for ground handling contractors as well as for airports and airlines because it provides an upward spiral in apron safety, according to Mr Gamper. Each SMS should include a mechanism for the ground handling contractor to develop a database of apron safety occurrences which can be analysed to produce concrete findings on best practices.

Each SMS should also establish formal safety-performance indicators, as well as providing mechanisms to create trust between organisations operating at the airport, and detailing mechanisms to encourage reporting of safety-related occurrences. Such reporting mechanisms require that the groundhandling service encourage what ACI calls "a just culture" for safety reporting so its employees are not penalised for reporting occurrences, unless an occurrence results from an employee's wilfully negligent or criminal act.

Such reporting systems can be confidential, but they needn't necessarily be as long as they provide a sufficiently just culture. "The judicial process should be second to improving aviation safety," Mr Gamper remarked.

Training and licensing

While each ground-handling company probably will conduct most of its employee training in apron safety procedures by itself: "the airport operator should have some kind of oversight as to what ground-handling [procedures the contractor] is training, and look at its SMS, including training," Mr Gamper noted.

Airport operators necessarily become directly involved in some areas of ground handling training and licensing. One area is drug- and alcohol-abuse training for, and monitoring of, groundhandling contractors' employees. Another is to perform all testing and licensing of drivers and vehicles involved in ground-handling services, to ensure they meet required standards of knowledge, proficiency and performance to satisfy apron-safety needs.

This airport operator oversight of driver training and licensing establishes that ground-handling services' drivers understand clearly where they are allowed to drive on the apron and where they are not, and that wherever possible they must remain on service roads in serving aircraft parked at remote stands. It also ensures drivers know to give way to aircraft at all times and that they follow the commands conveyed by apron signage and markings, including making mandatory stops at certain markings - such as those at the intersection of a road crossing and a taxiway or runway.

All drivers on an airport's aircraft manoeuvring areas must be under the formal instruction of and in communication with the airport's tower controllers (and must use formal ATC communication language), but ground-handling services' drivers on the ramp are mainly only in communication with their companies. Tug drivers are in direct, plugged-in contact with the pilots of the aircraft they are manoeuvring.

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Formal safety oversight

Within the past few months, ACI World has ratcheted up communication to its members of best-practice guidance in apron-safety procedures and has emphasised the need to have a properly structured SMS in place by publishing the first editions of the ACI Apron Safety Handbook and ACI Safety Management Systems Handbook. These documents comprehensively expand upon and replace sections in the ACI Airside Safety Handbook, published in 2010.

So important does ACI World consider the need for airport operators to emphasise their safety oversight of ground-handling companies in furthering apron safety that it is now preparing a working paper which calls for airport operators to establish formal safety policies for ground-handling contractors.

"We recommend a formal relationship and to make it a legal document," said Mr Gamper. ACI's draft working paper--which its World Governing Board should approve later this year--will contain a checklist of the areas these legal agreements between airports operators and ground-handling services should include.

In ACI's estimation, such documents should include language pertaining to insurance requirements, safety-performance levels and standards, and penalties for ground-handling contractors should they fail to meet any requirements laid out in the agreement, as established during airport operators' oversight assessments of ground handlers.

According to Mr Gamper, this working paper will be in the form of a document providing advice to ACI member airports. Following approval of the final draft by ACI's World Governing Board, it probably will be issued at the end of 2016. The advice will be a stand-alone document, "but eventually we will incorporate it into the Apron Safety Handbook."

ACI's effort to improve apron safety also includes working closely with IATA. This cooperation recently extended to IATA inviting ACI, for the first time, to cooperate in presenting at a major safety conference. At the IATA Ground Handling Conference in Toronto, held from May 15-18, ACI presented a session entitled 'Working together for a safer apron'.

In the session, five members of the ACI World Safety and Technical Standing Committee--including Mr Gamper introduced conference delegates to the ACI Apron Safety Handbook. They emphasised the need to break down any silos and barriers existing between airlines and airport operators, enabling greater cooperation among airports, airlines and ground handlers (and their respective trade associations) to improve the safety and efficiency of ground-handling procedures.

ACI World recommends that every one of its airport members has an apron safety committee, containing representation from airlines and ground-handling services as well as the airport operator. In this way ground handlers can work directly with the airport's other organisations to ensure that matters, such as apron incidents, maintenance of the apron and operational procedures, are addressed and any service conflicts are resolved. "We want everybody to be on the same page," said Mr Gamper.
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Title Annotation:GROUND HANDLING: SAFETY
Author:Kjelgaard, Chris
Publication:Airports International
Date:Jul 1, 2016
Words:1212
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