Safety Culture survey with ground handlers

Human factors have been identified by the European Commercial Aviation Safety Team (ECAST) as a ground safety issue for which safety enhancement action plans have to be developed.

NLR-ATSI performs research on human factors in ground handling under the authority of the ECAST, in cooperation with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Netherlands. The results provide a basis for recommendations to the participating Ground Service Providers (GSP) and the European aviation industry.

The objective of the research is to investigate the causal factors which lead to human errors during the ground handling process, creating unsafe situations, personal accidents or incidents. In order to investigate these topics of interest, the input of ground handling personnel is extremely valuable. Therefore, cooperation has been sought and found with the following GSP:

  • Aviapartner, Amsterdam Airport;
  • Aviapartner, Rotterdam The Hague Airport;
  • KLM Ground Services, Amsterdam Airport;
  • Maastricht Handling Services, Maastricht Aachen Airport;
  • Menzies Aviation, Amsterdam Airport;
  • Servisair, Amsterdam Airport;
  • Viggo Eindhoven, Eindhoven Airport

The following method is used for the investigation of human factors in ground handling:
Phase 1: Investigation of the current situation:

  • Questionnaires with regard to safety culture and human factors;
  • Interviews to better understand the identified issues.

Phase 2: Identification of possible improvements:

  • Conclusions are drawn from the analysis of the results and interviews, and recommendations are made. Comparisons of the participating GSP are made in a de-identified manner.

The applied questionnaire consists of two sections. The first section aims to assess the safety culture of the participating GSP, for which the Aviation Safety Culture Inquiry Tool (ASC-IT) has been used. The second section aims to address specific human factors that play a role in the ground handling process.

Seven GSP within the Netherlands participated in the study. Questionnaires were distributed to the target groups of Management and Operational personnel. The first section of the questionnaire aimed to assess the organisations’ safety culture; the second section focused on human factors.

After processing of the preliminary results, interviews have been conducted with the coordinators of the GSP, complemented with one or more employees with extensive knowledge of the daily operations and company processes. The interviews aimed to place the results in the right context, and to get a better understanding of identified issues.

The results identified opportunities for improvement in the propagation of the safety policy and principles, substantiation of the principles of a just culture, communication of safety related issues, the ‘visibility’ of management to operational personnel, standardisation of phraseology on the ramp and awareness of the potential risks of human factors related to time pressure, stress, fatigue and communication.