Airport Show
13 - 15 May 2025

Held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman of Dubai Airports, Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline and Group

Making Ground Handling Operations Safer – Airports Adopt Fresh Tactics

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released data in the final quarter of 2019 with estimates that 7,000 ramp accidents and incidents — one per 1,000 departures — occur worldwide every year. Around 243,000 people are injured each year as a result of these accidents, and the injury rate is roughly 9 per 1,000 departures.

This means that ground handling operations remain a significant and persistent source of avoidable accidents, injuries and deaths that continue to endanger airport staff and passengers while also impacting on airports’ operating budgets, delay rates and overall reputations. 

At a time when air travel demand is rising and airlines are looking to increase capacity by around 5.7% and average load factors are reaching new highs of 81.4%, now is the time for airports and airlines to work together to promote efficient and safe ground handling operations with an established culture of rigorous safety. 


Reducing Ground Support Equipment (GSE) operational incidents

A study from IATA in 2016 found that GSE operations cause 47% of all aircraft ground damage, leading to a radical rethink in many quarters on how to deliver better ground handling solutions. 

From inefficiencies involving multiple ground handlers, suboptimal airport designs and a lack of standardised procedures, there is a lot to contend with. While every airport has its own unique issues and circumstances, there are a number of common approaches being taken to raise GSE and ground handling operations’ safety levels without compromising on their efficiency:

Improved training: Modernising ground handling staff training programmes is a priority area for all airports, since despite the trend of growing automation in the aviation industry, human operators are still essential in making ground operations as smooth and safe as they can be. Introduction of new training techniques and support tools, such as AR/VR, will be crucial in helping airports ensure that their employees are always ready for the rigours of daily operations.

Adopting global standards: IATA has been pushing for the global adoption of its safety guidelines and regulatory frameworks, such as the IATA Ground Operations Manual (IGOM) and IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations (ISAGO), in order to ensure a level of operational consistency and safety across the industry worldwide. This is considered essential by the group for cutting down on incidents related to non-standard GSE configurations and ground handling procedures. 

Increasing innovation: Technology is being looked to as an enabler of better safety in ground handling operations, from manufacturers including more advanced sensors and auto-navigating systems to their ground support equipment, to more holistic digitalisation of the entire aircraft turnaround process and implementation of more advanced safety management systems (SMS) and fleet telematics designed to accurately track, manage and maintain at all times.

Improving airport design: Alongside the improvements to GSE and staff training, airports are also looking to improve the design of their infrastructure and critical systems to better account for ground handling operational needs. This concept extends from the more efficient design of runways and aprons, to the implementation of automated terminals, driverless passenger transport systems, smart parking features and more.


Creating conditions for safer, smoother airport operations 

A 2017 industry whitepaper estimated that overall aircraft ground damages for that year were around $12 billion, when ancillary costs related to injuries, lost time away from work, insurance-related costs to both employers and employees and other factors were taken into account. During the same year, IATA estimated that the aviation industry would save $4 billion annually by improving safety and reducing damage to aircraft and ground vehicles. As we enter 2020, the stage is set for dramatic improvements in ground handling operations, as operators look to absorb growing demand in a safe and sustainable manner. 


This article was created in association with Airport Show taking place in Dubai on 24-26 May 2021. 

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