Ground Handling Safety – Procedural Errors

Alastair Gordon explains what happens when Procedures are not followed:

At the best of times, handling staff work under some pressure, to meet deadlines and SLA’s. This is aggravated by various factors beyond their control, such as Arrival delays, delays in baggage or cargo deliveries to departing flights etc.

It is intimidating when airline agents or supervisory staff are piling on the pressure to get the aircraft out on time and this is another source of accidents on the ramp.

At times, laid down procedures are ignored in an attempt to expedite the process, with often disastrous results.

Procedures were developed to ensure safe operations, not as a way of hindering staff.

Some examples of procedural errors, which had severe consequences, include:

· A staff member being killed by walking into a propeller instead of around it, to remove chocks.

· An over eager staff member deploying a Slide raft at an aircraft door by opening the door without getting clearance from cabin crew to open the door.

· Aircraft doors being severely damaged by catering trucks because the operator did not follow procedures by lowering the platform before opening the aircraft door.

· Aircraft door damaged because the step operator approached the aircraft to position the step before being given the “All clear” by the Ground Engineer.

· Cabin crew falling out of aircraft because step was removed from aircraft and barrier strap was not positioned in doorway.

· Severe damage to nose landing gear because Tug driver attempted to commence push back operation before the captain had released the aircraft park brake.

· A number of Cargo aircraft have been badly damaged by incorrect offloading. The centre of gravity is moved out of limits and the aircraft “sits on its tail”.

The list goes on and on with some fatal consequences.

How can this problem be eliminated or minimized?

In conjunction with the carriers and Airports Authorities, the Ground handling companies must compile a “Procedures Manual” which covers all aspect of Ground Handling, not only general safe practices and procedures, but specific aircraft type procedures as well.

Once this manual has been agreed to and compiled and printed, the next step is to make it available to all relevant stake holders, especially operational staff.

It doesn’t end there however; a Procedures manual sitting on a shelf gathering dust is worthless! The contents of this manual must be studied, understood and adhered to by all relevant staff.

Procedures may be reviewed from time to time, but not amended unilaterally!

Irrespective of how much pressure is brought to bear on operating staff, these procedures must not be deviated from for any reason. Staff contravening these procedures should be dealt with in accordance with disciplinary codes.

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