Air Transport World

Danger zone: ramp accidents continue to bedevil an industry that prides itself on its safety record; now a new initiative aims to tackle the problem across all of aviation.

It is said that the world's most dangerous work environment is the flight deck of a US aircraft carrier, but with an average of 0.10 deaths per 1,000 commercial aircraft departures, perhaps the airport ramp is next in line to take that dubious title. In Fact, injuries caused by airport ground accidents tripled between 1996 and 2001 and cost the industry an estimated $5 billion, contributing to air transportation's having the highest loss of work days in the industrialized world. The industry's inability to improve tarmac safety stands in stark contrast to its successes in most other areas of operations.

Ramp damage did nor get to the $5 billion level overnight. According to the Flight Safety Foundation, there has been a gradual increase in the number of incidents and their associated costs over the history of powered flight. In fact, ramp damage actually went hand in hand with man's conquest of the air, 100 years ago this month. After Orville and Wilbur Wright had completed a total of four flights on Dec. 17, 1903, a strong gust of wind flipped the Wright Flyer, resulting in heavy damage to the aircraft. It never flew again.

As airplanes have evolved into immensely bigger and more sophisticated machines, ramp damage has kept pace. For example, a Saudi Arabian Airlines 747 ended up in a deep drainage ditch at Kuala Lumpur international Airport after engineers taxied it on one engine, but not the one that powered the brakes. In another incident earlier this year, a Northwest Airlines A319 smashed into a boarding bridge and damaged an adjacent 757. Another serious ramp incident occurred at Anchorage in November 1998 when an Asiana Airlines 747 crew tried to execute a U-turn when they realized they were parking at the wrong gate. The application of thrust oil an icy ramp sent the 747 wing into an adjacent II-62's tail, but once impeded, rather than shutting down the crew incorrectly applied more power and sent two vehicles and several freight containers into the terminal. Miraculously, nobody was hurt in the incident.

Now FSF has launched a Ground Accident Prevention initiative to tackle this persistent problem. Executive VP Robert Vandel and Foundation Fellow Earl Weener are co-chairmen of the effort. …

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