COPYRIGHT 2017, INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT REVIEW / GS
Manuscript of the
Article published in
'International Airport Review', Sept. 2017
Hundreds of airport ground service providers (GSP) and thousands of ground staff around the world handle millions of aircraft movements and serve billions of passengers every year. It is a highly demanding, complex and multidisciplinary operational environment where people from different backgrounds are called to seamlessly coordinate for the delivery of their final product: quality customer service, on-time performance and above all secure and safe operations. Aviation safety starts on the ground yet, the domain of airport ground servicing remains a “self-regulated” field in aviation. The ground services staff, who controls key safety parameters of the aircraft turnaround, is exposed to inconsistent and sometimes poor training standards, while it functions under a web of disharmonized and often vague or contradicting operating procedures and rules. It doesn’t come as a surprise therefore, that aircraft ground damages remain a problematic area of concern. Although the reliability of ground handling accident statistics is questionable due to under-reporting, the Flight Safety Foundation has estimated that 1 ramp accident/incident occurs per 1,000 departures worldwide with an injury rate of 9 per 1,000 departures every year. Perhaps we can acquire a more comprehensive picture by delving into the reports of aviation insurance companies, where all ground accident claims finally end up. In the 2014 Allianz report, ground handling accidents ranked third in terms of both the number of claims received and their total value, and accounted for 18% of all its aviation insurance claims.
2. Systemic Perils
The systemic pathogenies frequently encountered in the ground handling business around the world comprise:
Subpar selection criteria and inadequate or improper training of ground services staff.
Inconsistent implementation or non-compliance with standard operating procedures.
Lack of on-site supervision.
Shortage of manpower.
Ineffective internal quality control and safety oversight from ground service providers.
Unsatisfactory maintenance and serviceability of ground support equipment.
Deficient apron supervision and control from aerodrome operators.
Unjust corporate culture, where employee may be even negatively incentivized.
Limited managerial commitment and accountability.
Incoherent communication and collaboration among key stakeholders.
Although some of the
issues above may individually raise the probabilities of human
error by up to eleven-fold, when combined together this
likelihood increases exponentially.
Formulating a GSP Regulatory Framework
The industry has put a significant amount of effort to harmonize ground servicing around the world, yet airlines are still reluctant to give up their own procedures and protocols. The implementation of the ISAGO program may still be short from attaining the required confidence level in the industry as compared to the IOSA program. Moreover, many decision makers may regrettably seek operational “compromises” if something isn’t prescribed by a regulation and is translated into additional costs or capital investments. Hence, the need to ensure high and consistent standards in ground operations and further safeguard the systematic oversight by the national aviation authorities, implies the forging of a formal regulatory framework. Such system can be founded on five normative pillars:
Establishing the regulatory requirements and process for the certification of ground service providers.
Defining the governing framework for awarding a license to ground services staff relevant to its job function(s).
Delineating the practical and theoretical training specifications for all ground service functions including training material, classroom or OJT hours and assessment criteria.
Outlining the requirements for the approval of training organizations delivering courses on ground services.
Developing and implementing a compliance oversight system encompassing tactical audits and inspections.
4. Implementing GSP Certification
In 2016, the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) of Saudi Arabia was the first to introduce a formal certification framework for ground service providers and the licensing of their personnel. It comprises a set of documents of more than 200 pages including the core regulations, advisory circulars, internal manuals, checklists and related forms. The benefits of the new regulatory framework are seen as three-fold:
Enhancing ground operations safety at all aerodromes by establishing systematic compliance oversight against the new regulatory requirements.
Setting a level playing field for new entrants to compete with incumbent service providers in view of the opening of the ground handling market and the undergoing airport expansion projects and privatization.
Elevating the quality and level of service provided to passengers and airlines.
A year and a half after the introduction of the new regulations, the close collaboration and commitment of all associated stakeholders made possible the reduction of aircraft ground damages by more than 65%. Swissport was the first GSP certified to operate at three international airports, followed by the national Saudi Ground Services (SGS) at Jeddah airport in 2017. Another 20 ground service providers from different disciplines are in the process of certification including cargo, fuel and catering companies.
Pictures: The new terminal facilities of King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, which is 88% complete. In June 2017, Changi Airports International signed a contract for the operation of the new airport for 20 years.
(I) GACAR Part 151 - Ground Service Providers
The new regulatory framework for the certification of GSP defines 11 ground service categories and 30 subcategories, while additional activities may be authorized if it is deemed in the interests of safety or enhances the quality and comprehensiveness of the services offered at an airport. The technical and operational standards use as baseline the ground work done by the industry and more specifically the IATA’s AHM, IGOM, CHM, ISAGO and DGR, the JIG (Joint Inspection Group) standards for into-plane fueling services, airport depots and hydrants, as well as the IFSA (International Flight Services Association) specifications and World Health Organization’s guidelines for hygiene, sanitation and food safety for inflight catering services. Some of the important regulatory insights include the following:
Certified organizations nominate key “post-holders” responsible for the three critical domains of: ground operations, training and quality assurance. The post-holders have to be accepted by the aviation authority, enhancing the degree of accountability and allowing the regulator to directly assess the qualifications, knowledge and competence of such key personnel. The responsibilities of managerial, supervisory, safety, internal audit, and training personnel are also framed.
Duty period limitations for operational staff are addressed for the first time. It is stipulated that no person may be scheduled to perform duties for more than 10 hours within 24 consecutive hours, while a minimum rest period of 8 hours is observed. This can alleviate the excessive working hours of ground staff, that has direct impact on aviation safety due to the induced fatigue on employees and the training hours frequently lost under such circumstances.
The service life of ground support equipment (GSE) is limited to 15 years, which is on average double the depreciation period used for heavy equipment. As the condition of equipment is always a function of its utilization, extension of the service life is provisioned given that the party concerned conducts a risk assessment for the GSE in question. Furthermore, maintenance organizations need to obtain the acceptance of the aviation authority prior to engaging in contracts with ground service providers.
A dependable quality assurance (QA) system is seen as the core of a safe and well-functioning organization. The content of the corresponding QA manual, the setup of the quality organization and the responsibilities of the associated personnel are outlined. Non-certified organizations may serve as subcontractors only under stringent conditions, operating under the quality system of the certified GSP. Submission of safety reports and statistics is also introduced to address the under-reporting of occurrences.
application for certification involves the submission of
six prerequisites, including the five principal manuals
of: ground operations, training, quality assurance, safety
management and emergency planning, which have to be
reviewed and accepted by the authority. The GSP
certificate includes the operational specifications for
the organization, i.e. the privileges awarded, and is
initially valid for one year.
(II) GACAR Part 68 - Ground
Training records are submitted for acceptance to the aviation authority for ensuring that the applicant has undergone the training modules foreseen. The relevant certificates must be issued by a training organization acceptable to the regulator.
The organization has to assume accountability for assessing the competence of its employees and explicitly attest to the eligibility to perform their functions before releasing them to duty.
The ICAO level 3 English proficiency requirement is introduced for all staff who come in direct contact with cockpit crew.
is also working with key stakeholders on the standardization of
ground services training requirements and assessment criteria.
This comprises the course topics and content, the minimum
duration for both the theoretical and practical elements and the
length of practice under supervision. The dynamic nature of
aviation suggests that any framework established is continually
reviewed and expanded. There is still much to be done for the
successful integration and implementation of the new
regulations, which are currently undergoing their third
revision. Greater attention to ground operations standards and
their implementation translates into enhanced aviation safety across the board.