Mode Aviation
Reference No. AR201700121
Date reported 06 December 2017
Concern title Unsafe procedures by ground staff due to punitive contracts
Concern summary

The concern related to unsafe work practices by ground staff at a company’s regional base.

Industry / Operation affected Aviation: Air transport
Concern subject type Aviation: Ground handling

Reporter's concern

The reporter expressed a safety concern related to the safety of passengers on the ground at [location].

The reporter advised that on numerous occasions, ground staff at [location] have had to be reminded of basic safety requirements. These include:

  • Safe docking of stairs at rear of aircraft for passenger use
  • Passengers being allowed to walk to the aircraft without ground staff supervision
  • Ground staff commencing boarding without the appropriate ground staff being in position.

The reporter advised that margins on ground contracts have been made so punitive that ground staff are willing to put the safety of passengers at risk to ensure there are no delays, as they understand that they may lose the contract due to delays.

Operator's response (Operator 1)

I have asked our Airport Manager in [Location] to provide some feedback, which I have included below.

They have indicated that there hasn’t been any change in the processes that are followed for the safe boarding of [operator]. On all occasions appropriate safety criteria are met.

Regarding the safe docking of stairs: The [operator] procedure for the safe docking of stairs is always followed. This involves the ramp team moving the stairs into position abeam the aircraft. If a crew member notices that the stairs are not in place correctly or need adjusting after the customers have disembarked, then standard procedure is adhered to – crew member notifies ground staff, who in turn have the stairs repositioned by the ramp team.                                   

Passenger marshalling:  All passengers boarding the aircraft via rear stairs are marshalled using a customer service agent and also the passenger marshalling unit (PMU) (safety strap). There is always a line of sight from the doorway (at ground level) to the rear stairs of an aircraft (rear stair boarding).

Gate boarding can be commenced by ground staff, and the customers are held in the walkway prior to the cabin crew manager advising it is okay to board.

Our Airport Manager in [Location] has indicated that there was a reported breach of procedures on [date]. The report states the following:

[Cabin crew] advised cabin crew manager during disembarkation of [flight number] that stairs were not in a safe position to continue disembarkation as there was a considerable drop from the aircraft to stairs. There was also a gap between the stairs and aircraft which ceased disembarkation via left rear door. [Cabin crew] advised ground staff to adjust the stairs, this was acknowledged to be rectified for rear stair boarding of [flight number]. [Cabin crew] was checking the rear galley only to be presented with a customer unannounced. Authority to board was not given by the captain. The calculated off blocks time was adjusted to 1159 for [flight number] to fit in with arrival sequence into [Location 2]. No marshalling ground staff were present on the tarmac when passenger boarded the aircraft. [Cabin crew] immediately contacted the cabin crew manager with a confused look on her face as cabin crew manager had communicated change of calculated off blocks time to the team leader.

The Duty Manager on shift at the time of the occurrence provided the following response to the above reported occurrence:

[Flight #] DEP/[date]

  • Marshaller positioned by rear stairs of aircraft (sighted by ADM)
  • Approx 20 pax being held on aerobridge / walkway prior to clearance to board aircraft
  • Marshaller misheard call to hold pax for rear stairs boarding and allowed 1 pax to board via rear stairs whilst positioned at bottom of stairs
  • Marshaller then heard the call to hold and left tarmac to man glass doors leading out (positioned underneath a/b) ready to hold any further pax
  • All other pax were held, awaiting clearance to board from aircraft as per normal procedures in [Location}
  • This aircraft was already late inbound by 24mins (ATA 1109) aircraft departure re-timed and posted to (1144) with the CSM basing her boarding time on the COBT (1159) without reference or communication of intention to do so. Captain may depart aircraft 5 mins prior to COBT and this in itself is changeable at any time.
  • Our customers are expecting to depart at the re-timed and posted departure time
  • At no time is/was safety ever placed behind schedule.

Regulator's response (Regulator 1)

The response provided by the operator appears to confirm the general description of the safety issue as perceived by the reporter however there is insufficient information provided to allow CASA to determine the significance and the underlying cause of those issues.

The reporter’s comments regarding (financial) margins appear to be misdirected at the operator as they reportedly do not use third party ground service providers.

The information provided by the reporter has nevertheless been provided to CASA’s ground operations inspectors and the oversighting regional office. This may result in a change to the safety picture CASA develops and a change to the prioritisation of CASA’s surveillance of the [Location] ground service providers, third party or otherwise.

Last update 12 July 2018