Aviation can be dangerous business, but a look at hangar and ramp accidents shows the costs can be high, even deadly. Training, attitude and reasonable expectations can reduce the number of incidents. Discussion/Analysis: For all glamour, aviation is a dangerous business. Pilots and mechanics are well aware of this risks and they are highly trained to manage them. But the same can not be said for many of the ground support workers in aviation ramps and hangars.
The lack of standard approach to training, the persistent time pressures which many of these workers face, their congested and sometimes confusing workspaces, and their physically demanding but ill-paid positions can create a dangerous environment.
The industry recognizes this and is taking steps to improve it. There are major obstacle to understanding the scope of the ramp safety problem and thus improving it; government data is incomplete and privately collected data is considered ownership.
The cost of ramp accidents is high. According to the Flight Safety Foundation, approximately 27,000 ramp accidents and incidents occurred annually worldwide and around 243,000 people are injured – about nine per 1,000 departures.
The cost to major airlines was estimated to be at least $10 billion a year.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) calculates the direct costs of airplane damage to be about $4 billion a year. IATA regards the origin or cause of the problem to “minimal oversight” of ground service providers in the selection and licensing process, in system implementation, training and development, and in auditing, reporting and compliance procedures.
In a report published in 2007, the U.
S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) described the typical ramp as a “small, congested area in which departing and arriving aircraft as serviced by ramp workers, including baggage, catering and fueling personnel. the presence of a large number of people utilizing equipment in a relatively small area, often under considerable time pressure, creates an environment in which injuries and fatalities can occur. ” As an example of what can happen , GAO cited the December 2005 scare at Alaska Airlines, when an MD80 experienced sudden cabin epressurization as a result of an unreported incident in which a ground vehicle had punctured the aircraft fuselage.
According to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U. S. workers supporting the air transport sector in jobs such as airport operation and the servicing, repairing, maintaining, storing, and ferrying of aircraft, suffered 2,780 nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses involving days away from work in 2006. The data showed an upward trend from 2003 (2,680) and 2005 (2,470).
Many of the injuries in this category occurred to service workers, such as ticketing agents and bellhops, who lift heavy bags but don’t work on the ramp. In spite of that, it’s easy to tell, even from this randomly selected survey data, that serious injuries are commonplace among workers such as aircraft mechanics, vehicle and mobile equipment mechanics, and material movers. Among the most frequent types of injuries were: sprains and strains; bruises and contusions; fractures; and cuts, lacerations and punctures.
Fatalities also occur. U. S. Government Accountability Office found that of 29 fatal ramp accidents ( across all sectors of aviation ) from 2001 through 2006, seventeen involved ground workers, eight were passengers and four were pilots. This misfortunes typically occurred when employees were struck by objects such as vehicles, or were crushed , or fell. Of the eight passengers who died, five were struck by propellers. Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) database is also full of complaints about commercial aviation ramp safety, ranging from poor signage and lighting to inappropriate or foolish marshaling and the parking of equipment inside protected areas.
Ramp workers were sometimes cited for putting the need for timely pushback ahead of safety or company policy, or for speeding and erratic driving of fuel trucks and other vehicles. Many of these complaints reported aircraft contact. One of these incidents sounds funny. –when a member of the cabin cleaning crew tried to marshal an aircraft —but if the pilot had not stopped the aircraft at receiving unintelligible signals, there could have been injury and aircraft damage.
A look at the safety database of the U. S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which records incidents with significant aircraft damage and injury, slight errors focused on general aviation ramp, as well, pilots were often at fault, leaving engines running while searching for objects on the cockpit floor, visiting the bathroom, or allowing a photographer to wander near an aircraft. One 71 year old pilot collided with the terminal building while attempting to park his aircraft on the terminal ramp, while another older pilot impacted a hangar on his landing roll.
In other cases, workers on the ramp inserted chocks while the propellers were running, directed jet blast onto taxiway (with ill effects for an incoming plane), or “guided” an aircraft into a construction vehicle. Hangars can be hazardous, as well, potential injuries range from tripping on the power cords in the hangar floor, to inhaling or being burned by chemicals used for cleaning and servicing aircraft, to receiving shocks or burn from wires and electrical equipment. Workers need to know how to ventilate chemicals and how to label wires and cables.
Data Problem: The aviation industry like to say “safety is data driven,” but in the case of ramp safety, the data is insufficient. Government Accountability Office said that “a lack of complete accident data and standards for ground handling” hinders the effort to understand the nature, extent and cost of accident and to improve safety. Investigative agencies only look into certain classes of accidents, and that their data is incomplete, especially in the area of non-fatal injuries. According to GAO, the U. S. Occupational safety and health Administration (OSHA) only investigates ramp problems “when they involve fatalities or hospitalization of three or more employees. ” and data collected by private entities is not available to the public “for competitive reasons,” according to the agency.
Causes: Ramp guidance issues included incorrect or inappropriate gate assignments, inadequate ground crew staffing during aircraft movement, especially during night and bad weather operations, and improper taxi or parking instructions from ATC, company ramp control or ground personnel. Non human guidance were also part of the issues. Marginally visible taxi lines, and poorly placed lead in lights and building mounted light systems were also cited as contributing factors to incidents, according to ASRS ( Aviation Safety Reporting System) database.
Communication is an integral part of ramp guidance. Fifty two percent of the reported ramp accidents were due to poor communication with the guidance personnel. Ineffective communication was at the heart of the towing incident that resulted in aircraft damage. The flight crews defined their own errors in two ways; first, specific task or action that they performed incorrectly (usually a failure to follow procedures); and second, inappropriate responses to ground crew actions or instructions (usually faulty decision making about hazards involved in following those instructions).
Safety Initiatives: International Air Transport Association is starting a safety audit program for ground handling companies, including a worldwide ground operational safety benchmark and standard. The National Air Transportation Association is creating a web-based event reporting database which will make available to its safety management system participants.
Conclusions and Recommendations: So, while it is true that it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to handle luggage, every person who services an aircraft must continually pay attention to detail even when the task has become repetitious and the execution is boring. That’s not easy and in order to get an individual to think while performing these repetitive tasks, management has to provide incentives. Workers need to be trained not only the relevant standards and identifies the hazards and risk, but how to treat injuries that can occur. What to do — as a first line of defense –in case of injuries such as chemical burns, broken bones, deep lacerations or electrical shock. There are a number of actions that can take to reduce ramp incidents.
The following recommendations are based on the findings and on suggestions from a highly experienced ASRS analysts.
Ultimately, however, the responsibility for safe operation of the aircraft rests with the flight crews. Therefore, regardless of any actual or assumed inadequacy on the part of management or ground crew, it is up to the flight crew to take action to prevent incidents. Suggests the following preventive actions for flight crews:
Summary: All data available put hard number proof to the conclusion that common sense lead us to in the winning situation. Improvements in safety will also produce reductions in operating cost, enhanced airline reliability and longer equipment life. Selection, training and retention of dedicated employees pay off on the ramp safety as they do almost everywhere else.