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EASA Ground Handling Conference

Ground handling incidents statistically represent one of the largest threats to aviation safety. With ground handling now coming under the revised Basic Regulation, the conference was tasked with improving the draft GH roadmap by covering six definitive areas, whilst ensuring rulemaking remains based on industry standards and ICAO documentation.

Approximately 200 delegates attended the conference, representing airlines, airports, ground handling service providers (GHSPs) and other affected stakeholders. With an airport ramp being a complex working environment covering many differing requirements employed for the same or similar procedures, the need for standardisation is essential to eliminate the risk of error. With ground handling incidents statistically representing one of the largest threats to aviation safety, discussion focussed on six essential areas to better understand the differences in their application across EU member states and what steps need to be taken to introduce greater consistency based on industry standards and ICAO documentation.

Management Systems (inclusing SMS elements)

A robust and integrated management system will be required for all GHSPs as per the revised Basic Regulation. This will mean that all GHSPs will have the same level of requirements and be able to work with all models of aircraft under the sphere of ground handling. The concept of Just Culture is also an essential enabler in any management system, ensuring that individuals can rely on an element of trust when reporting incidents etc., as per Regulation 376/2014.

Operational standards

The conference learned that there are ‘officially’ 59 published procedures in the GHSP world for the chocking of an Airbus A320! This means that there are potentially 58 ways of getting the procedure wrong, depending on which one the airline employs. This A320 example demonstrates the complexity in the GHSP environment where multiple stakeholders have multiple requirements. Quite simply, when you have seen one airport, you have only seen one airport! It is therefore imperative that complexity and confusion be removed from the procedures amongst GHSP employees.

Training

The conference discussed how attitudes and beliefs are key elements when trying to find ways to improve. As covered under the Operational Standards session, in the GHSP world there are too many different operating requirements for the same task. The overall goal under the banner of training is to induce a consistent and professional career path for GHSP personnel. This is of importance to EASA, hence the need to introduce a basic level of training and requirements in the draft ground handling concept papers. Scenario-based training was mentioned and how it has benefits as opposed to classroom training. For example, an individual does not just pass an exam but can instead demonstrate their knowledge in a real-time/live situation/environment.

Ground Support Equipment (GSE)

Many ground handling accidents occur as a result of a lack of maintenance to the Ground Service Equipment (GSE), as well as non-compliance of standards for the use of GSE. The industry must ensure that all GHSPs train their staff appropriately in order for them to safely and efficiently operate the GSE for which they are trained/qualified. Training, knowledge and understanding are key elements on the ramp, with numerous GSE utilising operating switches/instructions that may differ in appearance, but ultimately carry out the same function.

Oversight

This session covered the responsibility of the National Aviation Authority (NAA) regarding the oversight of their ground handling activity. The NAA has an important role regarding the adequate training of Ground Inspectors, whilst embracing a tried and tested effective reporting system (as per Reg. 376/2014). Additionally, Ground Inspectors must understand the process for ‘seeing’ the differing GHSPs roles. A good example of this is the difference between the roles of the GHSPs at a small regional versus a large international airport, where the roles are the same but comparisons differ greatly.

Staff turnover

The rate of employee turnover with GHSPs can vary depending on several factors, including location and salary. While the annual percentage turnover of GHSP staff can range from less than 5 per cent to 90 per cent, the fact remains that employees entering and exiting the job market have a tremendous impact on the ground handling world.  When an individual leaves a GHSP, their role must be replaced and the new recruit trained to the desired standard, with associated costs. Additionally, with training resetting with each new GHSP employee, safety also becomes a factor. 

The conference concluded with an explanation of what is hoped will be achieved with the concept paper. EASA will now proceed with its activities and inform all stakeholders in due course of the follow up actions.

For further information on the conference, please contact Christopher Mason, ERA Manager Policy & Technical via email christopher.mason@eraa.org