Ground Operations

Ground Operations


Ground Operations involves all aspects of aircraft handling at airports as well as aircraft movement around the aerodrome, except on active runways. The safety challenges of ground operations arise, in part, directly from those operations; for example, ensuring that aircraft are not involved in collisions and that the jet efflux from large aircraft does not endanger small ones. Even more important, ground operations involve the preparation of aircraft for departure and must be done in such a way that the subsequent flight will be safe; for example, correct loading of cargo and baggage, sufficient and verified fuel of adequate quantity and quality and the correct use of Aircraft Ground De/Anti-Icing facilities, where appropriate. Runway Incursions may arise during or as a result of ground operations, but are covered by a separate category.

Safety Challenges

Examples of safety challenges involving ground operations directly include:

  • ensuring that aircraft are not involved in collisions with other aicraft when moving and that the jet efflux from large aircraft does not hazard small ones;
  • ensuring that aircraft are not damaged by debris left on the aircraft manoeuvring areas;
  • ensuring safe parking and docking of aircraft;
  • minimising the risk of impact damage to parked aircraft and ensuring that any such impact, even if apparently minor, is reported and subject to maintenance inspection as appropriate prior to any further flight operation;
  • maintaining adequate surface friction on manoeuvring areas;
  • provision of adequate signage, markings and lighting so that aircraft are able to follow their taxi clearances properly;
  • providing ATM capability which matches the complexity of ground operational movements.

Examples of safety challenges arising from ground operations concerned with the preparation of aircraft for departure include:

Much of the activity required in connection with aircraft handling or ground service provision may be dealt with by a collection of contractors and sub contractors rather than people employed directly by the Aircraft Operator; this activity can have a direct bearing on the safety of flight. Such arrangements require that effective Quality Assurance systems are used by both the Aircraft Operator and the various service providers. Many of the issues associated with human factors for highly trained professionals also apply to the various unlicensed operatives who both carry out and operationally supervise the various aircraft ground handling tasks when the aircraft is on or in the vicinity of its parking stand or gate.

Safety Improvement Initiatives

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is promoting its ‘IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations’ ISAGO which aims to extend the IOSA concept to aircraft ground service provision in the belief that it will help raise overall safety standards amongst the large numbers of service providers involved. In addition, the IATA Ground Handling Partner Program is intended to help members address ground handling issues that impact safety and damage reduction, while promoting efficiency improvement initiatives.

In late 2022, IATA called for a transition to "enhanced ground support equipment" or enhanced GSE as a way to improve safety and contain the cost of ground damage involving GSE. Enhanced GSE uses anti-collision, improves vehicle control, and increases docking accuracy, which reduces the risk of personnel injuries and damage to aircraft. A 2022 IATA study, IATA Ground Damage Report: The Case for Enhanced Ground Support Equipment, estimated that the cost of ground damage could nearly double toUS$10 billion per year by 2035 unless preventive action, like transitioning to enhanced GSE, was taken.

Further Reading

Return to Ground Operations Article Index


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