Safety Doesn’t End with Engine Shutdown

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By Carl Gouaux, Chief Pilot

Safety management doesn’t end when an airplane lands. It continues during taxi and after shutdown. In fact, it never ends.

If you think all the risks are in flight, consider this. Worldwide, an estimated 27,000 aircraft ground handling incidents occur every year and cost the industry about $4 billion annually. Safety is as important for the marshaler and the tug driver as for the pilot.

Here’s an example that we reviewed in a recent Safety Committee meeting. On March 26, 2017, at London’s Gatwick Airport, an EasyJet A320 loaded with 168 passengers and crew rolled backward and struck a stair truck. No one was hurt, but the airplane required an expensive repair to its fuselage and boarding door.

Prior to the accident, the wheels were chocked and the parking brake was set. So far, so good. Then a maintenance crew arrived to investigate a brake system defect. That required the parking brake be turned off. The technicians faithfully followed a written procedure, but the procedure said nothing about re-setting the parking brake upon completion. So the parking brake was left off.

The ground crew arrived, connected a tug and removed the chocks. This violated company procedures, which required leaving chocks in place until all ground equipment is clear. At that point the tug driver found his vehicle’s radio wasn’t working. With no communication with the flight crew, he disconnected the tug intending to replace it with another.

Now there was nothing to keep the airliner in place, and so backward it rolled. The flight crew applied foot brakes, but too late to avoid a costly mishap.

Like most accidents, this one involved a chain of errors. The maintenance procedure left the parking brake turned off. The tug driver didn’t communicate with the flight crew. The chocks were pulled prematurely and weren’t re-set before the tug was disconnected.

Almost any one of these errors, if removed, might have prevented the accident.

Safety requires recognizing that things can go wrong. Dominion Aviation’s safety team goes looking for hazards – on the ground as in the air – so that we can mitigate them before they cause a mishap. We welcome observations and suggestions from anyone, to make Richmond Executive Airport safe for all its users.

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