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FAA Under Fire For Ramp Safety Efforts

6 December 2007

Despite its efforts to implement the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not been able to curb the risk on ramps at its airports, according to US congressional investigators this week.

Issues of runway safety technology, the lack of data kept on overruns and air traffic controller fatigue were all criticised in the report, designed to look at the progress of safety efforts through the FAA NextGen management strategy.

The Government Audit Office (GOA) says a lack of data has hindered safety improvements, despite efforts being made to address issues in this area.

"Efforts to improve safety in airport ramp areas, where departing and arriving aircraft are serviced by baggage, catering, and fuelling personnel are hindered by a lack of complete accident data and standards for ground handling," the report says.

"But the aviation industry is taking steps to address these problems with the goal of reducing ramp accidents."

While its ramp safety may be under fire, the FAA released a fact sheet on its runway safety this week, saying incursions were exceeded by 25 percent in the last year.

"There were 24 serious runway incursions this past year out of more than 61 million operations, or one incursion for every 2.545 million operations, improving on the agency's goal of no more than one incursion for every two million surface movements," the FAA report says.

It put this down to a series of 60-day steps introduced that could be enacted across the industry to help improve procedures, increase training for airport and airline personnel and enhance airport signs and markings.

But according to the GOA, a majority of US airport accidents still happen on the ramp – between 2001 and 2006 there were 29 fatalities, most who were ramp workers.

"GAO found no comprehensive nonfatal injury data on ramp accidents and neither federal nor industry-wide standards for ramp operations," the GOA's report says.

"The Federal Government has generally taken an indirect role overseeing ramp safety; airlines and airports typically control the ramp areas using their own policies and procedures."

By Penny Jones