Ground safety is entering a new era, promising to build on the success of previous achievements

Safety is always the industry’s top priority. But within that ethos, there are many levels of risk. The occasional “fender bender” on the apron, though far from being neglected, was hardly a headline grabber.

In 2008, IATA began a serious attempt to redress the balance, introducing the IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operators (ISAGO) as a registration scheme for ground service providers (GSPs).

The idea was to create safer, harmonized ground operations through industry-developed standards and procedures.

Better safety oversight, a uniform audit process, and the avoidance of duplicate audits through the sharing of audit reports were all part of the picture. An added benefit was reducing the costs associated with ground damage.

New audit model

A decade on from its launch, ISAGO is being revamped. “To sustain the growth and the benefits of the program, it needs to evolve to ensure audit scope, quality and costs are adequately and efficiently managed,” says Catalin Cotrut, IATA’s Director, Audit Programs.

The IATA Operations Committee, supported by the ISAGO Oversight Council working group, has been working to propose potential solutions.

The New Operational Audit Model for ISAGO is designed to build on the successes of the current audit program and introduces improvements in program management. All ISAGO auditors will be members of the IATA Charter of Professional Auditors.

What we are doing is not only making ISAGO more suitable to the stakeholders’ needs but also future proof

Membership is achieved by completing an IATA-managed recruitment, training, and qualification process. The emphasis of the ISAGO audits will focus more on the GSP’s corporate management systems and its oversight of ground operations at the stations, and the auditor training will reflect this.

IATA will continue to allocate audits on an annual basis but contracted ISAGO agents will take the responsibility for the administration of the audits, including organizing the audit teams. 

There are other changes in the roles and responsibilities of the auditors, especially the lead auditor, and the GSPs and the program oversight activities. Fundamentally, the program will become funded on a cost-recovery basis with all stakeholders contributing according to benefits gained.

“What we are doing is not only making ISAGO more suitable to the stakeholders’ needs but also future proof,” Cotrut suggests.

Switchover time

The development phase of the new process initiated in January 2016 has concluded and is being replaced by a roll out phase in 2017.

The switchover date is scheduled for 1 September 2017, at which point work developing the audit schedule for 2018 under the New Operational Audit Model will commence.

While these activities are taking place, the existing 2017 audit schedule under the current program will continue until completed.

“Obviously, there are expectations that the demand for ISAGO audits will continue to increase and so the main target is to provide enough auditors to conduct all the audits that are requested this year and thereafter,” says Cotrut.

Further out

Looking further ahead, there are other trends to account for and accommodate.

One is a demand to increase the scope of ISAGO  audits to cover more operational procedures and to ensure the implementation of safety management systems more widely within GSPs.

A lot of effort has gone into the project so far, and we are determined to make it work

There is also a push to gain greater recognition of ISAGO by regulatory authorities. This would assist airline oversight of its ground operations.

“We are excited about the changes and challenges ahead,” Cotrut suggests. “A lot of effort has gone into the project so far, a lot of collaboration with the industry, and we are determined to make it work.” 

The million-dollar question, of course, is whether ISAGO will make the upgrade to a widely-accepted global program 

Cotrut says he asks himself this question every day. “We haven’t created the new model all by ourselves, we have involved and consulted many stakeholders, including airlines, GSPs, regulators, and many others,” he says.

“We have also been working very closely with one of the top GSP representative organizations, the Airport Services Association (ASA), to ensure their views and ideas are heard.

"The ASA made it very clear that ISAGO has to reduce the number of duplicate audits. If we achieve this goal I am confident the new model will work.

Steady rise

That confidence comes from ISAGO accomplishments to date, Cotrut acknowledges.

As of February this year, the number of GSPs in the ISAGO Registry surpassed 220, with almost 440 registered stations in over 280 airports worldwide.

Many Civil Aviation Authorities or Airport Authorities have mandated or recommended ISAGO registration 

ISAGO auditors have performed more than 1,300 audits since the program’s inception. 

Many Civil Aviation Authorities or Airport Authorities have mandated or recommended ISAGO registration.

This includes the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC), a regular meeting of Directors General of civil aviation in Europe and the CIS countries. Lebanon, Turkey, Mexico, and Seattle, Amsterdam, Toronto, and Mumbai Airports have also endorsed the program.

In addition, the number of registered GSPs and those requesting audits has increased steadily year on year, and is expected to continue to rise. And the majority of the initial registration audits have been renewed, as is required every two years.

Aviapartner, for example, adopted ISAGO from the very beginning in 2009. It was the first network handler to adopt ISAGO in Europe and also the first in each country in its network.

Our whole safety and security organization has gone through major changes since the implementation of ISAGO

Currently, Aviapartner has 20 stations on the registry and two more in the pipeline. 

“Our whole safety and security organization has gone through major changes since the implementation of ISAGO,” says Eva Vanallemeersch, Aviapartner’s Vice President, Quality, Safety & Environment.

“ISAGO is our vehicle for continuous improvement. The 24 new SMS standards in the fifth edition of ISAGO have been the driver to turn Aviapartner’s safety system into an SMS. 

“ISAGO, and with it, also IATA Ground Operations Manual (IGOM), are powerful engines for Aviapartner because they push us continuously to review our procedures to the latest evolutions, standards, and customer views resulting in robust procedures,” Vanallemeersch continues.

“This has also helped us to roll out our quality management system, which is now ISO9001 certified and has even stood the test of the IATA CEIV pharma certification.”

Aviapartner reports that customer audits at ISAGO registered stations are shorter— sometimes just a turnaround inspection—and smoother, resulting in less findings.

“The most important conclusion from our data is the impact on safety and costs,” says Vanallemeersch.

“Over the years, the operational severity of accidents with damage to aircraft has dropped, while the number of safety reports is increasing as a result of the SMS roll out.”