The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has published the first-ever proposal to regulate ground handling across EU airports in a move to increase the safety, cybersecurity and consistency of all the actions that happen on the ground before and after a flight.
The proposed regulation would affect around 300,000 workers and ensure that ground handling is covered by regulation (EU) 2022/1645 on cybersecurity.
Until now, the sector has been largely self-regulated. In most cases, operational arrangements, including those impacting safety, are captured only in bilateral service agreements between ground handling service providers and the aircraft operators.
Luc Tytgat, acting executive director of EASA, said: “Aviation safety starts on the ground. This entirely new proposal fills an important gap in the overall regulation of aviation operations in the European Union, which means that we will now have an end-to-end approach to ensuring aviation safety and cybersecurity.
“For passengers and their airlines this will provide increased certainty that ground handling operations are being carried out safely and consistently in all major airports across the EASA member states.”
The new regulation would aim to ensure an “efficient approach on the oversight of ground handling organisations by competent authorities”, therefore hoping to “avoid multiple verifications of the same activities and organisational aspects and gradually reduce the significant number of audits performed mostly by aircraft operators”.
EASA said that, this way, organisations should be able to better allocate their resources from auditing to managing the safety of their operations.
This would mean aircraft operators will retain overall responsibility for aircraft and flight safety.
Tytgat added: “A large ground handling organisation operating at 100 stations may be subject to over 600 audits from external stakeholders in a year, entailing almost 5,000 hours of work.
“In future, air operators will be able to rely on the results of oversight performed only once by the competent authority and reduce their own audits only to the necessary additional aspects.
“This will reduce costs and free up resources to focus on more critical operations.”
The regulation would require ground handling organisations and self-handling aircraft operators performing commercial air transport operations to self-declare that they comply with the EU requirements.
This can be either by applying operational procedures developed by themselves or industry standards and good practices.
Organisations would need to prove they have a management system in place, proportionately aligned to the complexity of their operations.
This includes a safety management system, training for staff, a maintenance programme for ground support equipment and defined operational procedures together with a robust safety culture, where any safety issues are reported without penalty to the reporter, swiftly addressed and used as a lesson to further improve safety in the provision of services.
EASA’s proposed regulation is expected to be published between later this year and early 2025 and will recommend a transition period of three years for implementation after the publication of the regulation.
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