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Looking at FBO Ramp Safety

 Looking at FBO Ramp Safety
Written for Business Airports International & published July 2016:   

Are you an FBO manager, owner, MD or CEO? If so, how much attention do you pay to your ramp staff skills and general ramp safety, and why should you be concerned?

All too often management do not concern themselves with operational matters. Safety is left to someone else. Safety managers at far too many facilities report difficulty in securing funds for training and PPE, as well as a lack of understanding of what safety is all about.

While it can be said that ramp safety is everybody’s responsibility, such responsibility and indeed oversight must begin at the top. Safety needs to be driven by senior management, otherwise it just becomes a manual in a filing cabinet.

During a discussion with an FBO owner who did not understand this, I broke it down to terms I hoped would drive home why he should take a personal interest in ramp safety. I explained that if his company is unfortunate enough to suffer an incident or accident, at the very least his insurance premium will go up considerably and a date in court might also follow (putting aside the possible human cost). Point taken!

All airside staff require training and recurrent training to suit their tasks. Proper training not only makes staff, passengers, crew and aircraft safer, it boosts staff moral and instills confidence in your customers.

African experience
A few years ago I was consulting for an African-based FBO. The CEO was very safety orientated and forward looking. He was concerned something was missing in their in-house training program, which had been developed from an airline system and really did not fit the needs of an FBO structure. The FBO was a very busy station with only one hammer-head stand, lots of self maneuvering in tight areas, and constant towing including in a large hangar.

Having undertaken a study of the various online training systems available, one was selected. Tailored for corporate aviation and particularly with FBOs in mind it was an internationally recognized standard and in use for many years by highly respected companies.

All ground operations and customer relations staff (as they had airside access) were enrolled. With an upbeat briefing on the merits of such training they were off, averaging about one hour each working day, during quiet periods, going through the theory modules. The only tools they needed were computer access, a note pad, pen, a positive attitude and support from their trainer who also took the course. If required they could turn to their trainer, ask any questions on their mind and head out to the ramp to explore whatever needed further explaining. Two days in and the head of HR popped in to my office to say how great it was to see small groups of staff enthusiastically discussing various aspects of the course, helping each other and working through new ideas and methods.

At the start of the third week I received a telephone call from the head of operations for a leading European-based AOC and aircraft management company who were a daily visitor to the facility. Already he was receiving reports from crews on the improved operational environment and customer experience at our station.

The theory modules were followed by the practical section. Ahead of this I took our students, in small groups, to have a close up look at some of the types of aircraft we handled. Many crews based at the airport were very happy to sit our people in the cockpit so they could get the pilot’s view of the ramp, and hold Q&A sessions. An aeronautical engineer working with the MRO at our hangar, who was also a pilot, kindly gave up some of his spare time to give our students an overview of aircraft systems – everything from avionics, engines, ailerons, elevators, winglets, undercarriage to thrust reversers.

You might ask, “why bother to include customer relations staff?” Well, the more understanding you can imbue you staff with the more you improve all round awareness of the dangers others may face. Also, the extra effort to include others beyond the ramp operatives is minimal and it creates a sense of inclusiveness, thus improving overall staff morale. We arranged additional crew and engineer led Q&A sessions for our security and administration staff that were not on the training course, as well as including them in foreign object damage awareness discussions.

Well within the allotted time, all 18 ground crew (and the trainer) successfully completed the course. A few weeks later I received an email from the USA-based training organization confirming that our FBO was the first in Africa to attain this internationally recognized training standard. A job well done.

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