Ramp safety (or aircraft stand safety) is an extremely important matter in airport management and operations. Therefore, we have decided to discuss the importance and scope of ramp safety in this article to find what’s the big deal with safety on the ramp and why is there even such a term as Ramp Safety.

We will explain why it is an important matter in aviation and why so much literature is produced and standards developed to address ramp safety. This article is going to be a series of articles based on explaining ramp safety aspects.

National Aerospace Laboratory in Netherlands conducted a study that analyzed 2,841 incidents from 14 million flights around the world to find the scope of ground handling accidents and incidents. The research found that of all the reported aircraft incidents, more than 26% happened when the aircraft was on ground.

Furthermore, if all of the ground incidents are segregated and further categorized according to the place of incidents, it is found that 84% incidents take place when the aircraft is parked on the ramp. It expresses how important safety is in ground handling of aircraft on the ramp.

On the other hand, Flight Safety Foundation in United States estimates that 27,000 ramp accidents and incidents happen worldwide each year that equates to one accident per thousand departures. These accidents and incidents injure 243,000 people yearly worldwide.

The above facts make it clear why ramp safety is of utmost importance based on the quantum of accidents and incidents taking place on the ramp (or aircraft stand) during ground handling and ground support operations.

Why is Ramp Prone to Accidents?

Now that we have looked at the stats, a natural question is why ramp is prone to such accidents and incidents? Is there something inherent in ramp operations that compromises safety and causes accidents and incidents to take place?

In order to understand the problem better, we will explain the dynamics of operations and activities that take place on the ramp (or aircraft stand). As for the complete detail of all the activities and operations performed on the ramp, we have a dedicated article for that. However, in short, an aircraft lands and reaches the aircraft stand and then takes off for the departing flight.

The airline earns revenue by flying its aircrafts from destination to destination. It does not generate revenue when the aircraft is on ground. Therefore, there is a lot of pressure on airline staff to get the aircraft back in the air as soon as possible.

The term used for describing how much time an aircraft takes to get back in the air is called Turnround Time. Airlines and ground handling agencies (GHAs) strive for reducing the turnround time of their flight and the major player in reducing this time is the ramp (or aircraft stand). It is because the aircraft can turn around as soon as the ramp operations are completed.

This imposes a time pressure on ramp staff to complete the ground support operations so that the aircraft becomes ready for departure. However, time pressure alone is not the only contributing factor to ramp accidents and incidents.

The second significant factor is the amount of movement of men and machines that takes place within this constrained time pressure environment. Different teams are using different pieces of equipment on the ramp, each performing its task due to which there is a lot of hustle on the ramp.

In short, when a lot of staff, equipment and vehicles are working around the aircraft on the ramp in a hurry, risk of accidents and incidents rises. There is no way you could just slow the process down without hurting the airline business. It makes it necessary for airlines, ground handling companies and regulatory bodies to find ways for ensuring and improving safety on the ramp.

Hence, ramp safety has evolved as an important subject in aviation. It envelops the regulations, work methodologies, technologies and scientific solutions for reducing chances of accidents and incidents during ramp operations and improving overall safety on the aircraft stand.

How Ramp Safety is Ensured?

Ramp safety is ensured through:

  1. Standards, rules and regulations to be observed on the ramp
  2. Developing procedures for ramp operations that inherently reduce risk of accidents
  3. Technologies developed and built into the machines and equipment used on the ramp

The rules and regulations observed on the ramp are a subset of the heavily regulated aviation industry where standards, guiding principles and advisory notices are issued for safety on the ramp (or aircraft stand). Such documents are issued from regulatory bodies such as Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as well as international associations such as International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Airport Council International (ACI).

These standards, for example, define the rules for ramp layout and ground markings down to the level of defining the thickness of lines and visual properties of the paint used in ground markings on the ramp. Another example is the minimum distance between adjacent aircrafts parked on adjacent aircraft stands defined by FAA and ICAO in relevant documents.

Regulatory bodies even define the thickness and color code of lines in ground markings

The procedures developed for ramp operations make sure that the way activities are performed are safe. These procedures are developed by airlines, airports and ground handling companies themselves in the light of the higher level guiding documents from regulatory bodies.

For example, at the end of pushback operation, the headset man is required to show the bypass pin to the pilot and pilot is supposed to acknowledge it. This little step in the pushback procedure makes sure that bypass pin is not left inserted mistakenly in the aircraft’s nose landing gear as it will cause loss of steering control by the pilot during next landing.

The modern day airport takes full advantage of technologies developed by manufacturers of ground support equipment (GSE) and other ramp gear for ensuring and improving ramp safety. We are not talking about the hearing protections here, although that is not to undermine its importance. We are referring to the technological elements inbuilt in ramp equipment, machines and vehicles for ramp safety.

For example, jet bridge has built-in sensors for detecting the presence of aircraft body. Once it does, the electronic control system of the jet bridge restricts over-speeding of the jet bridge to reduce risk of collision between jet bridge and the aircraft body.

Another example are the signaling lamps installed on almost all movable ground support equipment (GSE) for alerting nearby staff about its movement during night time. Such signaling lamps are often also accompanied by alarms or sirens to serve as acoustic signal that a machine is moving and ramp staff may become aware and cautious.

Observe the orange visual signaling lamp on top and strips on sides of a Ground Power unit for acting as visual signals for safety
(Image Courtesy of ITW GSE)

What is Covered in Airport Ramp Safety?

Airport ramp safety covers the safety aspects associated with apron activities and the various ground handling operations conducted on an aircraft stand. Understanding of Ramp safety is ensured through understanding the following:

  1. How ground markings on the aircraft stand ensure safe ground handling operations.
  2. What is the Importance of preventing foreign object debris (FOD) on apron?
  3. How safety is ensured in aircraft docking – the first operation on the ramp after arrival of the aircraft.
  4. What are the safety considerations in aircraft electrical ground power operation?
  5. What are the safety aspects in Aircraft Pushback Operation?
  6. How jet bridge operation is made safe? and what are the human factors involved in it?
  7. What are the safety aspects in aircraft refueling and how to prevent fuel spills on the ramp?

In short, airport ramp safety is a very broad topic carrying a lot of depth. Its understanding is developed by understanding the variables involved in different aircraft ground handling operations on an aircraft stand.

So this is how ramp safety – a very important matter in airport operations – is addressed by regulatory bodies through regulation; by airlines, airports and ground handling companies through development of procedures imbued with safety concerns; and by ground support equipment manufacturers through use of technology.

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If you are interested in obtaining a base level knowledge about ramp safety, check out this 7-hour video based course on Udemy that you can easily finish in a week (or binge watch in a day or two). It explains ramp safety in detail with interesting case studies of ramp accidents for in-depth understanding of the subject. It also explains ramp safety aspects associated with 13 main ground handling operations carried out on the ramp.