Aviation – Groupthink and Getting Too Comfortable

Aviation can be an inherently dangerous business as this tube with passengers on board departs for the next flight, next destination, on time and with adequate loads and yields to make this yet one more profitable flight. Airports are becoming ever more congested as a greater number of people take to the airways, airlines up gauge aircraft size and place an ever-increasing number of seats in their planes to grow and sustain the business. Airport aprons are a beehive of activity as ramp crews struggle to get the cargo and baggage on and off the aircraft and deliver quickly for flight connections and to waiting for passengers anxious to clear customs and get out of the airport to go home.

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Baby boomers are retiring at an ever-increasing pace leaving substantial gaps as to operational experience and reliable staff that are difficult to come by due to low entry wages, shift work and stressful working environments as to weather and rapidly changing operational circumstances.

Accidents or damage to aircraft, rolling stock or airport facilities are occurring in frequency, complexity and actual growing costs. This trend is hard for front line management to quantify, measure or effectively deal with.

Airlines, airports, government agencies, ground handling companies and others operating at an airport need to come together to identify the risks, problems, opportunities and then to plot a suitable and sustainable way forward. Statistics need to be gathered, shared and communicated in a manner that front line staff can understand and relate as to how this applies to their operation within the larger airport community.

The industry must work with facts. It needs to have the ability and the courage to determine a root cause and not just a symptom that needs either more investigation or corrective action. Groupthink can impede the ability to spot a trend or to identify a series of misunderstandings that could lead to a serious incident or accident occurring in the future. Front line staff at times can get to be too comfortable working around aircraft or on the airfield and thereby losing sight of the risks that they encounter as part of their everyday work activities.

The solution to this growing challenge is not necessarily a simple one, but one that if addressed well can and will drive the required changes to enable the best operational practices. The way forward includes conducting a structured and formal audit to determine if established processes or procedures are indeed utilized as planned. If not, why not? Are these procedures outdated, too complicated, misunderstood or perhaps not even required in today’s aviation operations?

The need for proactive and timely information cannot be understated. A close up look at the information flow between various parties at an airport needs to identify, tested and as required adjusted. Are there “service level agreements” that in turn drive expectations and the best use of staff members?

Airlines, airports and companies that do not make money on a sustainable basis are generally not long-term business survivors and influencer decision makers. A corporate SMS (Safety Management Systems) should be seen as a revenue generator and not as a cost centre. The aviation business demands among many factors issues like accountability, measurement, cost controls, and last but not least engaged and reliable employees.

Avcon.WW can assist by undertaking detailed airport audits, SMS program development, space management, airside apron operations, aircraft de-icing and more. The Avcon.WW team can assist you with these core competency areas. Please contact paul.ritchi@avconww.com for more information.

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