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Plane Talk

Raise Your Standard of Safety: Address Non-Catastrophic Threats

Posted on: September 28th, 2016 by JAgur

Do you put as much time, energy, and focus on aircraft operations ground safety as you do flight safety?  Not likely.  But, you should!

North American Business Aviation’s safety record is touted to be as good as that of our FAR 121 peers.  In fact, we are crashing aircraft at enviably low rates.  However, if you focus only on catastrophic flight events, you are underperforming in your responsibility to raise your standard of safety – address non-catastrophic ground threats.

Each of the insurers states their largest single source of claims payments is ground events.  Even so, definitive data is exceptionally difficult to acquire because:

  • The FAA and NTSB do not track these events.
  • The insurers consider the data private, competitive information.
  • There currently is no central collection point for ground event data.

Historic data shows that a ground event is 800 times more likely than an aircraft accident.  But, it appears aviation professionals greatly undervalue the threat of a ground event.  This was illustrated when business aviators responding to a 2015 NBAA Safety Committee safety survey rated their concern for a ground event only slightly greater than for an in-flight event.


Why should you consider ground events a critical risk?

A ground event:

  • Takes the aircraft out of service for days, weeks or even months.  Your company aircraft is a major investment in leveraging the impact of the enterprise’s key personnel.  Reducing its availability unnecessarily is a significant reduction in your department’s ability to perform.
  • Is an unplanned, significant expense.  Even when insured, much of the costs are not fully recovered.  This raises the costs associated with your services.
  • Is a distraction and redirection of corporate resources (legal, financial, managerial, departmental, etc.) away from the core efforts of the enterprise.
  • Damages your aviation department’s brand.

How big of an issue are ground events?

  • VanAllen conducted a confidential survey covering a 24-month span, from 2014 to 2015.  Eighty aviation departments participated.
  • 63% of the participants did NOT have a ground event during the study period.
  • 37% participants had one or more events during the study period.
  • There were a total of 64 events during the study period’s 168,810 aircraft legs.
  • That is a rate of 0.04% events per flight leg.
  • Business Aviation has a fatal accident rate of about 0.00001%.  In other words you are about 3,800 times more likely to have a ground event than a fatal accident.
  • Put another way, the study group had a ground event rate of one per about every 4,000 flight hours.  That means, if you have two aircraft, you have a 50% probability of having a ground event every 2.2 years.

What are the most common sources of ground events?  The study group indicated:

  • 50% of events were “hangar rash.”
  • 33% of events were towing accidents.
  • 10% of events were ground vehicle collisions.
  • 7% of events occurred during taxi.



What is being done to address the ground event rate?

  • The insurers, NATA, IBAC, NBAA, FSF, major FBO chains and numerous ground support vendors are conducting awareness, training and certification programs.
  • NetJets has led the industry by creating contractual ground handling training and procedural requirements for FBOs that service their business.


Has that been enough?

  • There is data that suggests the rate of events is declining.  However, your department continues to be thousands of times more likely to have a ground event than a flight event.

Why are the current efforts not enough?

  • The threats remain very real.  Contributing risks remain numerous.  For example:
      • Towing an aircraft is not a high paying job.
      • FBO turnover.
      • The FBO is insured, “An occasional wingtip is inevitable.  It’s why I have insurance.”
      • The lack of supervision.  Management is spread too thin.
      • The lack of capital resources (certified tow bars, tugs, etc.).
      • There is financial pressure to pack aircraft into the hangar/ramp.
      • There is event crowding and time stresses.
      • Ramp access is under-controlled.
      • FBO training is uneven.
      • FBO staff capacity is situationally inadequate.
      • Facility lighting is inadequate.
      • It’s too easy for crews to not take responsibility.
      • Inadequate Aviation Department staffing.
      • Inadequate Aviation Department Ground Operations standards and practices.

What is the long term answer?

  • Smart robotic tugs.

In the meantime, what is the short term answer?

  • You!  Treat it like you own it.  Take personal responsibility.  No one takes better care of your stuff than you!


1. 50% of Risk – Hangar Movement

  • Three (3) wing walkers for all hangar movements.
  • All wing walkers must have whistles or horns.
  • All flight crew and ground crew carry whistles.
  • Four (4) brightly colored cones are posted at the aircraft’s corners in the hangar.
  • No part of the aircraft is permitted to be within 5 (five) feet of any obstruction or other aircraft (which prohibits even being close to allowing any overlap).

2. 33% of Risk – Towing

  • All towing operations are with a certified tug and tow bar.
  • Two (2) or more wing walkers for any ramp movement.
  • Require direct supervision of all destination (away from home) towing.
  • Require home FBO staff training.
  • Require destination FBO staff training.

3. 10% of Risk – Vehicle collisions

  • Directly supervise all de-icing operations.
  • Directly supervise all refueling operations.
  • Do not allow the aircraft to be parked next to a vehicle roadway or path.
  • 4 (four) brightly colored cones are placed at the corners of the aircraft.
  • Unattended vehicles must be in “Park” with brake set.  Chocks are nice…
  • Ground vehicles must approach the aircraft at an angle.
  • Ground vehicles are not permitted closer than 15 feet to any part of the aircraft (including in the hangar).

4. 7% of Risk – Taxi Related

  • Always require trained marshallers with bright wands.
  • Require a 25 foot taxi safety buffer for the aircraft.


Other Risk Mitigations

  • Consider using the same FBOs as NetJets and request they use their procedures on your aircraft.
  • Have your crews introduce themselves to the line service manager and request special care.  Consider paying/tipping him/her for that extra care.
  • Your crews must observe line service operations.  If they see behaviors and activities that raise concerns, have them mitigate those concerns.  Talk to a supervisor, directly oversee ground operations, or move the aircraft to another location.
  • All passengers should be escorted by a crewmember.  This is a safety and a security measure.
  • Always require passengers to have at least one hand free while climbing or descending the aircraft stairs.  This reduces the risk of falls.
  • Always station a crewmember at the base of the aircraft stairs while passengers are entering or exiting the aircraft.  This reduces the potential severity of a fall.
  • Always remove the tow bar after the aircraft has been moved.  Prevents a tripping hazard and a nose gear damage hazard.
  • Park the aircraft to avoid jet blast areas.  This reduces potential damage to the aircraft.
  • Routinely cover and flag aircraft projections.  This reduces the risk of personal injury and damage to the aircraft.
  • Require the nose and left main gear be chocked for temporary parking.  This reduces the risk of unintended aircraft movement.

Require appropriate FBO insurance coverages, both at home and away.

In summary, your aircraft is at its greatest risk when it is on the ground.  The consistent application of a comprehensive set of ground event risk mitigating policies and practices greatly reduces that threat.  Those policies and practices are within your control.  Assuring safe ground operations outcomes is your responsibility.

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