Janet Wallace, director, airport services, contracts & administration for Air Canada looks at whether the industry has reached ‘peak’ turnaround. AGS editor James Graham asked the questions
Let’s face it, the ramp is a task-saturated workforce
1. Have we reached ‘peak’ i.e fastest possible apron turnarounds?
The schedules continue to be tightened … and clearly the airlines are keenly interested in aircraft utilisation. Air Canada isn’t making money if the airplanes are on the ground. Morning start-ups are critical to our operations, on-time performance is our focus and sets the tone for the rest of the day. Delays at start-up cause a ripple effect, and create pressures throughout the day, where staff are forced to make up time on the ground. While minutes are being taken out of the schedule, ground staff need to achieve consistent turn times.
2. Can a turnaround ever be risk free?
As long as we have humans involved, there will be variation in the process to turn aircraft. Needless to say we work towards risk reduction from the perspective that we will mitigate risks to a level that is as low as reasonably tolerable.
3. What human factors contribute to problems during turnaround?
Let’s face it, the ramp is a task-saturated workforce. Failure to notice developing problems or being preoccupied with competing priorities lead to shortcomings in servicing aircraft turnarounds. Decisions to press on, underestimating potential risks or better yet, overestimating one’s personal capabilities can contribute to inconsistent service, not to mention present hazards.
4. What can be done to remove these factors from the turnaround?
Proper analysis of task duration, based upon size of equipment and passenger loads is the next step for Air Canada in reducing these risks. From there, using a well-structured, well-defined set of written policies and procedures, such as those documented in IGOM, will save time by alleviating the pressure of managers to constantly monitor and orchestrate the operations. IGOM education will lead to a standardised employee performance. This can only be accomplished with clearly defined responsibilities, depending upon crew size, as well as synchronisation of a sequence of events. Repeatability through these consistently applied standard operating procedures will provide for a more reliable workforce.
5. Has the ‘casualisation’ of apron personnel led to a lowering of safety standards during turnarounds?
Constant pressure to get flights out, or avoid gate holds, is vital to a successful customer experience. The ‘go go go’ nature of the work environment of aircraft arriving, offloading, reloading and out may lead to some of the workforce becoming complacent. However, safety standards are not compromised at Air Canada based upon volume or frequency. The operations are a pressure cooker, and shortcuts are not tolerated.
6. Is there a pressure from the increasing size of modern passenger aircraft, including giants such as the A380, which may now be having an impact on ramp turnarounds?
Large, densely populated aircraft, with increased checked luggage requirements, are a soft spot for the ramp staff. We have yet to fully understand the impact this is having, as we start to optimise our operations to consistent levels across all airports.
7. Have turnarounds become a free-for-all as legacy and low-cost airlines have outsourced services to third party providers?
Not in my opinion. From my perspective, there is no difference between legacies versus low-cost. On the ramp, it doesn’t matter the colour of the metal. All carriers demand the ramp to be on schedule or get back on schedule. It’s for this reason that ground handling contracts now come with service level agreements for key performance metrics as they relate to schedule.
8. The ramp activities with most frequent incidents of damage are baggage loading, catering and waste clearing operations. Do pressures on turnaround times ever cause these incidents?
Our airport staff are continuously working a balancing act between safety, performance and cost. Turnaround management needs to occur with all the parties approaching the aircraft arriving at the gate. From the moment the chocks are set, all the activities in between need to be cleverly orchestrated until the moment chocks are off.