Conference Review 2018

7th Ground Damage Stakeholders' Conference

Just shy of 100 delegates attended the magazine’s ground damage event in Rome in May and the two days of papers, live demonstrations and discussions gave those present a fresh focus on the perennial problem of safety on the ramp.

Day One began with an absorbing (and to be honest, a milestone) presentation from easyJet’s David Cross and Adam Simmonson from gategoup. The nub of the paper was a simple one: collaboration pays off. In admitting the complexity of the airline operation, Cross wasn’t covering new ground but the acknowledgement that multiple organisations are involved in a turn led to the establishment of the I Am Safety concept that was launched in 2015. This was a runaway success – and the escalation to We Are Safety the following year saw easyJet’s operation improve accordingly.

The idea involved teams working together and not remaining in silos; and the realisation that the big stick approach to tackling damage and incidents was leading nowhere opened up the doors to a better relationship with the caterer. Cross emphasised that the whole matter was never intended to be an easyJet initiative – and still isn’t; rather, he wants this kind of approach to be industry led. For gategroup’s Simmonson, the change in philosophy has been a welcome one, with the two companies now sitting amicably round the table. Incidents have dwindled and further progress, such as working with other low cost carriers to form a sort of birdstrike database, is helping the sector further.


Damage reduction progress

On to Airbus: Diego Alonso Tabares was able to explain to the audience what measures had been developed to date to help guard against damage to aircraft doors, and presented a vision of the near future, one that involved an autonomous ramp. Target markers for affixing to an aircraft near the door edges were first mooted back in 2015 at the IGHC; they were favourably received and so work continued on the project. Trials were successfully conducted in 2016 and with the advent of automated docking courtesy of Mallaghan’s steps, the reality and wisdom of the device was no longer put in any doubt. Ahead, more testing, before the retrofitting stage is finally reached. His future vision, presented in animated cartoon format, revolved around the concept of a single operator running the turnaround thanks to wireless technology. On the screen, it all looked perfectly straightforward, from cargo loading (with ULDs) to refuelling and eventual pushback via Mototok-type autonomous tractors. Catering, cargo, water and toilet… all could be performed via a handheld tablet. Apparently the concept was developed some five years ago: so how long will the sector wait to see it achieve reality?

In a follow-up paper, Tabares took the lead as he invited the audience, in groups, to spend some time looking at the ideal aircraft design and coming up with ideas and modifications that could see an end to ground damage. The key suggestions were then collected and briefly discussed. An avalanche of ideas was received, ranging from pitot tube placement to luminous paint (to make aircraft stand out in the dark) and the uniform opening of hatches. On board palletisation systems were favoured by some whilst others felt the need to dispense with beltloaders. Could cargo be accessed under the aircraft? And what about doing away with bulk loading? This magazine will feature some of the collected wisdom in the next issue, so readers may want to watch out for this feedback.


VR for training

Kpass is an innovative tool that was brought to Rome by Hocine Amara and Bruno Vandenbroucke. The pair believe that virtual reality, although by no means a new technology, is the way ahead for the sector in terms of training. Whilst the proponents are not in the business of marketing training courses nor yet again selling software, they can supply the tools to enable any institution to carry out simulation in a confined space. The whole package can be transported in a flight bag: that’s how compact it all is. By getting the operative to don 3-D goggles and following the on screen directions, training is speedy, efficient and totally safe. It’s amazingly cost-effective, too. FOD checks, marshalling, walkarounds, towbar connection and pushback are all covered. Citing cost savings of up to 60%, and the possibility of learning by doing rather than watching, this was an answer to potential problem for many in the room.

The first day concluded with the popular panel/audience debate: What keeps you awake at night? For easyJet, David Cross took the stage, and he was aided by Menzies’ Stuart Carmichael, JBT’s Nick Heemskerk and Simone Bovi from Neos. Much was discussed: unreported damage was high on the agenda for the panellists, whilst Bovi reported challenges with staff not always adhering to the correct manual procedures. There was, it was universally felt, a need to move towards a more understanding Just Culture; and where damage was being reported, retraining was the order of the day. Heemskerk commented on the quantities of old GSE that were doing the rounds, mentioning that moving it from station to station wasn’t a good idea; he also flagged up the fact that JBT is now moving towards the autonomous concept, and making GSE easier to operate, since user skill sets were apparently on a lower level today.

One of the most important observations came from Cross, who faced with the slow-moving machinery of IATA, took the bull by the horns at Luton airport and began to rationalise the current IGOM. Stressing that the manual had not been thrown out of the window, with the airport’s agreement he had set about making procedures more uniform, typically seven at a time. Thus now all carriers utilising the handlers there follow the station rules regarding the number of chocks placed and so on – and because the airport sees a lot of B73 series aircraft and A32 types, the formats can be adhered to. Carmichael was quick to endorse the progress that had been made, stating that incidents had dropped in the wake of these changes.

Did the industry require some sort of BTec qualification? Yes, it did – the problem lay in who would confer the award. On that subject, the panel all agreed that the aviation sector needed to make plain the possible career paths for aspiring staff. Financial incentives for good work were not the whole answer by any means; and until the lot of the baggage handler improved, it was felt that not much progress would be likely to be made. If less responsible jobs at better wages were on offer elsewhere, it was hardly surprising that employee turnover was high. Staff were not getting the recognition they deserved: that much was known; and as Cross observed, at one station when the management were encouraged to get out and visit the ramp on a weekly basis, 30% better performance figures were noted. Talking to staff during their downtime and even arranging for fruit in their rest rooms, as well as physiotherapist visits, had all been explored. In short, the problems of the sector were well understood: the challenge was, and remains, that of overcoming them.


Roller coaster ride

Day Two was something of a roller coaster ride with, assorted subjects and topics and the chance for those present to sample the VR training facility that was set up near the conference room. Human factors were explored (and explained) by Dr Sarah Flaherty and Sarah Tapley in an engaging presentation that sought to demystify the subject. In a nutshell, it was all down to having the right people, in the right place with the right equipment performing the right task and getting it right first time: easy to say but rather less easy to actually implement. Ergonomics, first studied in the 1940s, has undergone a transformation to become allied to human factors and the pair went on to explain about the role of the psychologist in today’s workplace. The subject is certainly a useful asset when it comes to the recruitment process, and is helpful in terms of compiling rosters and routines. Questioning everything, admitted Tapley, was helpful in analysis; and the audience learned that it was always good to know why things happened. Sadly, the aviation sector seems more wrapped up in asking why things go wrong rather than celebrating the good.

ISAGO and the changes to the SGHA for 2018 formed the backbone of Herve Guesquin’s paper. The most telling part of his presentation was the short Air France film spanning 75 years of aviation: remarkably, aside from technology, little had changed over the decades. He stressed the importance of being ready for any sort of aircraft disaster, a topic that would be taken up by a panel later on.

Simon Walker’s tour de force of safety and training competency frameworks gave plenty of food for thought, the underlying premise of which was that being trained did not necessarily equate to being competent: education played a vital role in this area. Some case studies reinforced his points. His talk led into the panel discussion of that other bete noir in the sector: the technology interface. Automation, the near perfect Japanese handling model and managing the transformation to a more automated workplace were all dissected. But, as one audience member pointed out, automated technology was already in the marketplace and had been for some time: the question was, when would the aviation sector adopt this solution.

As for Ivar Busk, the focus of his presentation was one of culpability. The audience received a diluted incident report and were asked to list causal factors to assist with the apportioning of blame. Management transpired to be the guilty party, showing that sometimes what appears obvious is actually less so. Neale Millett rounded off the proceedings with a panel debating the twin topics of a safer pushback and how the handle an emergency on the ramp.

Finally, an optional tour to view event sponsor TCR’s maintenance facility at Rome Fiumicino was held on Day Three.

In conclusion, it was an absorbing conference, with much networking in evidence. The event moves to Amsterdam for 2019, and is scheduled for May 21/22.