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Managing airport incidents

Picture of Iván Bardón

Iván Bardón

AERTEC / Aviation, On site supervision

The airport is a set of systems where a very large number of people, aircraft, vehicles and equipment interact. Due to this large number of actors, which allow the airport to operate, it is inevitable for incidents or accidents to occur airside on a daily basis.

Given this scenario, certified airports have a specific procedure for storing, processing, reporting and analysing these possible events as part of their Operational Safety Management System.

The airside of an airport is a dynamic environment where everyday incidents are inevitable. This is why exhaustive and detailed controls are needed to ensure constant safety at every level of operations.

Depending on the nature of an airport incident, it may be classified as a civil aviation occurrence, serious incident or accident, as per the definitions of Act 21/2003 of 7 July on Air Safety, and Regulation (EU) No 376/2014 of 3 April, which lays out the mandatory reporting system for occurrences in Civil Aviation.

Today, the variety of potential incidents is very large; as a result, airports have defined types and subtypes in order to group them together. Each type usually has a code associated with it to make it easier to identify when recording and obtaining incident statistics. As in almost every branch that falls under the purview of Operational Safety, the definition and processing of incidents is constantly evolving.

Some sample types may be:

  • Incidents with moving aircraft, which might include subtypes such as Aircraft collisions with structures, Incidents caused by jet blast, etc.
  • FOD on the ground, which can be subdivided into Animal Remains, Aircraft Debris, etc.
  • Incursions, which can include Incursions on the runway, taxiway or restricted areas by people, aircraft or vehicles.
  • Incidents involving wildlife, which can range from sightings to confirmed strikes.
  • … and many more.

Logically, incidents of more than one type can occur. For example, a bird strike on approach that leaves debris on the runway would be classified as a wildlife strike and the presence of FOD on the runway.

Also defined are occurrences of special relevance, which include serious incidents or accidents. These events require that measures be immediately identified to ensure the safety of operations. This is done by assessing the risks created by the incident and convening an operational safety committee, where the measures to adopt in order to prevent a repeat event of this type are defined. The occurrence also has to be reported. Runway incursions by aircraft, runway excursions, bird impacts and near misses are regarded as occurrences of special relevance. When an accident/serious incident occurs in Spain, the CIAIAC and AESA must be notified.

As concerns the sources for reporting occurrences, airports have an advantage, in that practically all personnel with airside access can report an incident. Although many of the notifications come from the daily logs of the various groups (Operations Centre, Wildlife Control Service, Rescue and Firefighting Service, Runway and Apron Service, Tower, etc.), pilots also report incidents directly to the control tower while taxiing (whether due to an emergency or incident involving their own aircraft or to identifying some irregularity during the operation). Handling Agents and other airport personnel can also report incidents they witness or are involved in by using the mailbox provided by the Operational Safety Department at the airport.

Moreover, the principles of non-punishment and confidentiality have been implemented and are applied to the reporter of an incident.

This principle guarantees that any communication will not be used against the person making the report, even if they made an error that resulted in the incident. In other words, the goal is not to assign blame or dole out punishment, but to prevent these occurrences and improve operational safety at the airport. However, it is important to note that this principle applies to unintentional errors, but not to negligence or willful non-compliance with airside procedures.

Gathering data on incidents makes it possible to issue monthly, quarterly or annual reports, depending on the traffic volume at the airport. The more traffic, the higher the number of incidents that can be expected due to the larger number of airside personnel. Because of this, reports sometimes need to cover shorter time periods. In addition to analysing incidents individually, it is important to identify trends in the attitudes of different groups or users that can lead to incidents, or even in facilities or equipment in poor condition.

The aforementioned reports can be used to compare incidents over time and, if necessary, to take the actions needed to reverse rising trends that have exceeded some indicators established by the airport.

In short, the airside of an airport is a tremendously dynamic environment where everyday incidents are inevitable. This is why exhaustive and detailed controls are needed to identify routine improvements and ensure constant safety at every level of operations.




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