Air Transport World

Big splash, small ripples. (improving the environmental impact of aircraft maintenance) (includes related article on current issues affecting airlines)

Big splash, small ripples Airlines have always been responsible for the safety of their passengers and employees. Today, though, more than ever, they also share responsibility for the safety of the environment in which they operate. Aircraft maintenance, like many other industrial processes, can discharge a host of materials that threaten air, water and ground qualify if not handled with safeguards. Flight operations can have an impact on the environment as well.

Airlines and airline-service companies have implemented new materials and procedures to mitigate environmental harm and have committed staff and resources to achieve further progress. Such initiatives have been prompted by the generally enhanced environmental awareness that has spread throughout society over roughly the last 20 years, but also by the expanding role of government in environmental regulation and enforcement.

At United Airlines, environmental protection is considered one aspect of the "infrastructure," along with occupational injury and illness control, property-loss control, accident damage control and fire protection. The company unit charged with all those functions is headed by Bill Wells, director of ground safety and environmental management.

Wells has a staff of 16, with titles such as safety manager, industrial hygienist, fire-protection engineer, ground-safety engineer and environmental engineer. Most have offices at United's maintenance base at San Francisco International Airport but the unit includes three personnel who visit stations throughout the system continually.

The ground-safety and environmental staff develop programs primarily for stations where maintenance is performed on aircraft or gound equipment. "We act as an in-house consulting firm, providing technical support to the operating airline," Wells says. "It's the local station manager who has to have control of his facility but he needs programs to ensure that in the course of doing business, he's in compliance with federal regulation and doing things in the most environmentally sound, economical fashion."

Wells continues: "We minimize problems at the end of the process by anticipating what the problems will be up front." Thus, before a new material can be introduced for company use, it is subjected to a safety review, checking not only its potential environmental hazards but also its flammability and possible threats to worker safety. If such problems are found, the material may be prohibited, or restrictions may be imposed on its use.

American Airlines maintains an internal data base that keeps track of all chemicals used in maintenance operations, showing, for example, the locations and amounts used for each material. …

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