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What You Need to Know about ISAGO Ground Operations in Aviation Risk Management

Posted by Tyler Britton on Aug 31, 2022 6:00:00 AM

Ground Handling Accidents in Aviation Risk Management

What You Need to Know about ISAGO Ground Operations in Aviation Risk Management

A couple of months ago I was sitting on a Boeing 737 jet waiting for the rest of the passengers to board the plane.

My seat was near the front of the aircraft, and I had a central view of ground handling operations. Since I boarded nice and early, I had nothing better to do than sit and observe the bustling of workers, bags, and carts below me.

As I was watching, I saw one of the ground handlers come flying in on one of his carts, narrowly passing between a piece of ground equipment and another vehicle, and then come to an abrupt stop near the 737. Moreover, his route to the 737 could hardly be called standard operating procedure.

Then I thought to myself – so that’s why damage to aircraft and ground vehicles in the aviation industry amounts to roughly $4 billion per year. That’s a lot of money. How many times does that same employee have to drive like that before he hits a vehicle, a piece of equipment, or even a person?

Ground handling operations play a particularly difficult role in aviation risk management for several reasons:

  • They are complex, very active operations;
  • There are many high-dollar hazards and risks involved in the interplay of vehicles, aircraft, and people; and
  • There is significant pressure for high quality and speedy performance – i.e., airlines that promise to have all checked bags delivered to baggage claim within a certain time period.

The way I see it, ground handling is a stress testing for aviation risk management: many risks, lots of pressure.

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Managing Risk with SMS in Ground Operations

Ground operations pose a somewhat unique philosophical problem in aviation SMS. Ground operations are for the most part outsourced to a company that specializes in ground operations. As ground handling operational safety is an absolutely essential part of the overall safety of flight operations and airport safety, the problem becomes:

  • Does your organization fully integrate ground operations into your company’s safety management system
  • Does your organization keep ground handling as a separate division within your SMS?
  • Or do you keep ground operations and your risk management program as two distinct SMS?

My first thought is that keeping ground operations and parent company within the same umbrella, such as with options 1 or 2, is the most efficient and integrated approach. But obviously, there are no clear answers here, and there are also good arguments for keeping ground operations as separate SMS. One such argument would be that ground operations' SMS is best if it is totally customized to their needs.

Having a separate SMS is an option; however, I don't think this is the best solution. When you have flexible SMS data management capabilities, it is possible and even desirable that you have a single SMS where all your SMS data is shared, but secured.

Aviation Audit Management Solution

ISAGO Audits in Safety Management Systems

Ground operation airport

The answer to adequately incorporating ground handling in safety management systems has been the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA), IATA Ground Operations Manual (IGOM), and associated ISAGO audit. It’s a big deal. The standards manual is 350+ pages and covers operational risk management in ground operations from every conceivable angle.

The main concern for airlines is auditing. ISAGO audits for airlines cover:

  1. Organization and Management (ORM) for headquarters and stations;
  2. Load Control (LOD);
  3. Passenger Handling (PAX);
  4. Baggage Handling (BAG);
  5. Aircraft Handling and Loading (HDL);
  6. Aircraft Ground Movement (AGM); and
  7. Cargo and Mail Handing (CGM).

It’s a lot of material, and airlines preparing for ISAGO audits have their work cut out for them.

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How Airlines Can Prepare for ISAGO Audits

If you are unfamiliar with ISAGO audits or have never had to prepare for them, you may be looking at the ISAGO Standards Manual and saying to yourself, “What the heck do I do with this?”

Understanding the compliance requirements for ground operations in your organization is a good idea. Reading through the manual’s 350+ pages and trying to assess where your safety management system needs more attention for ground operations is not a good idea.

Other organizations have already done that for you and distilled that information. The 3 best ways airlines can prepare for ISAGO audits are basically standard audit-preparation strategies:

  1. Reviewing ISAGO checklists;
  2. Reviewing ISAGO Guidelines for SMS; and
  3. Conducting internal ISAGO audits on your organization.

Fortunately, these documents and materials are easily accessible. Also, remember that ISAGO audits are conducted on a two-year cycle, and usually take a couple of days to complete.

Have You Read

Download Safety Audit Checklists

Do you need auditing tools for your company? The Safety-Quality Assurance Solution has all the required tools to manage audits like a professional. This SMS solution includes:

  • Offline auditing;
  • Checklist management;
  • Audit scheduling; and
  • Corrective and preventive actions tracking.

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Last updated December 2023.

Topics: 3-Safety Assurance

Site content provided by Northwest Data Solutions is meant for informational purposes only. Opinions presented here are not provided by any civil aviation authority or standards body.



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