ACI World’s vice president for safety and operations, Thomas Romig, reflects on some operational safety considerations for airports in 2021.
The last year has brought some significant changes to society as a whole and has had a huge impact on the aviation industry. The most significant of these impacts is the dramatic decrease in passengers and aircraft movements.
This change in ‘operational rhythm’ has some interesting safety consequences that have to be considered not just during the period of reduced activities but also when returning to operations and increasing operational intensity.
Pretty much all segments of the industry have been subjected to this change in operational intensity, with many frontline and operational staff being asked to stay home, put on temporary furlough programmes or in some cases losing their jobs.
For many, shift plans have been adapted to cater to reduced activities or to ensure that teams are segregated and can’t cross contaminate each other if one member was to be infectious.
Either way, the underlying result is a reduction in normal activity for many aviation personnel with potential consequences on their ability to safely return to operations.
On the other hand, there are also groups of staff within organisations which have seen their workload increased and significantly impacted as they take on ad-hoc planning and management activities necessary to face the crisis and organise operations, adapt procedures, plan for the future, ensure the sustainability or even survival of their organisations.
In many cases, these individuals have been equally subjected to significant change with an increase in day-to-day rhythm as well as having to adapt to working in a virtual world, with hours and hours of web meetings. This increase in rhythm can have as much impact as being underemployed.
Either way, particular attention needs to be taken to accompany aviation personnel into the return to operations, that will be coming at some point in the near future. This is relevant to all personnel who will undergo a shift in their daily activities and be subjected to a normalisation of their activities and duties.
Return to operations
With the vaccination programmes underway, opening of borders and improvements in the general health situation on a global scale, flight operations will start to increase, albeit probably fairly gradually at first.
This will mean that operational and frontline staff will be bought back into their operational environment to support passenger and flight operations and allow for the resumption of travel that many are longing for.
This return to operations for aviation personnel will need to be accompanied in such a way to ensure safe and efficient operations.
The significant changes in operational rhythm that many staff have experienced, means that they have not been subjected to the high intensity operations that the industry was accustomed to in the recent past.
The habits, reflexes and confidence that individuals had when accomplishing their day-to-day operations in the past will, in many cases, not be the same due to long periods of inactivity; this capacity will need to be built up again.
Safety has stayed in the focus of all aviation organisations throughout this crisis, with multiple adaptations being made to operations, in particular to ensure the ‘health’ safety of passengers and staff.
And as always, safety remains a fundamental pillar for the industry, it is therefore important that all organisations ensure that a risk based approach, including a safety risk assessment of the return to operations, is taken so as to identify any actions that may be needed in increasing the intensity of activities again.
The results of the safety risk assessments should be used to develop an action plan and relevant mitigation measures allowing for the safe resumption of operations and reintegration of personnel
These actions will be identified on an organisational level, but can include various means such as training, on the job briefings, adapted shift plans, allowing for a safe resumption of daily activities.
2021: The year of GRF
The consequences of 2020 on the aviation industry extended in some cases beyond the reduction in passenger and aircraft traffic all the way into the regulatory domain.
Many adaptations to the aviation regulatory framework, in a multitude of domains, have been necessary and continue to be discussed and developed to this day.
The rapidly evolving nature of the crisis has meant that regulatory bodies, as well as industry organisations, have had to adapt the applicable regulations and guidance material in a fast and agile manner over the past twelve months. The continued collaboration with industry by the global regulatory bodies is vital.
One prime example of this collaboration is the support provided by ICAO to industry in deciding to delay the introduction of the new Global Reporting Format (GRF) for Runway Conditions.
According to the previously agreed regulatory roadmap, GRF should have been introduced in November 2020. However, due to the impact of the current crisis and the fact that many of the aviation organisations could not dedicate the time necessary to adapt procedures and train personnel, ICAO agreed to differ the implementation by one year.
GRF will now be globally applicable on November 4, 2021, with an implementation on August 12 for some states.
ICAO and the industry have developed the Global Reporting Format to ensure the harmonised assessment and reporting of runway surface conditions. This is expected to result in an overall improvement in the safety of flight operations with, in particular, improved flight crew assessment of the conditions to be applied to take-off and landing procedures. However, this system will only be fully useful if applied consistently across the industry.
Airport operators have a key role in the introduction of this new methodology as in most cases they will provide the initial inputs for the information on the runway conditions that will be reported to flight crews, it is therefore important that the community be adequately prepared.
Many airports have already developed an implementation plan to manage this important change. Among others, this plan needs to ensure that airport operator staff are fully trained in the new process.
It is also important to consider that similarly to compliance requirements in other domains, liability issues may arise if an airport operator does not follow the applicable regulations in the implementation of the new ICAO GRF.
To assist airports in the implementation of this important change and support the work of ICAO to improve aviation safety, ACI has developed and made available an airport specific checklist summarising the essential steps needed in the implementation of this new reporting methodology as well as a web-based training course, developed in collaboration with ICAO, for affected airport staff.
A virtual classroom course is also available upon request. These resources can be found on the ACI World website.
The industry may have undergone massive changes over the past 12 months, but safety remains front and centre as a key consideration not just for operations but also for staff and passengers.
This is continuously reinforced by the collaborative efforts of representatives from all industry segments and aviation regulators to find the best possible solutions to reduce the level of risk and improve the global level of aviation safety.