FAA asks airlines to review ground handling procedures 

Following a pair of ground-related incidents, including one fatal, the FAA issued a SAFO
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The United States (US) Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) in response two incidents involving ground handling agents.

The SAFO informs airlines operating under several different Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) parts, including Part 121 (Regularly Scheduled Air Carriers), “about the importance of personnel remaining clear of an aircraft in tow until after it has come to a complete stop and chocks are installed”. Furthermore, the safety alert informed operators to review their aircraft marshaling procedures.

The FAA’s SAFO comes after two incidents in which employees sustained injuries while working with on-ground aircraft.

In the first case, a tow driver did not notice a wing walker who was still removing the main landing gear safety pins. Consequently, the employee was struck by the trailing edge flaps of the moving aircraft.

“As a result, the wing walker was run over by the aircraft’s #3 and #4 main landing gear wheels,” the FAA explained, noting that the wing walker “sustained serious injury” during the incident.

In another case, a ramp agent was ingested by an engine of the aircraft that had just landed. The aircraft had a non-functional Auxiliary Power Unit (APU).

“After stopping the aircraft and setting the parking brake, the captain gave the hand signal to connect the airplane to ground power,” the FAA said. At that time, the ramp agent had already opened the forward cargo bay, which resulted in her being ingested by the engine.

The incident happened at Montgomery Regional Airport (MGM), Alabama, US, in December 2022. Then, an Envoy Air employee was servicing an American Airlines Embraer E175 that recently arrived from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) on a flight operated by Piedmont Airlines.

The National Safety Transportation Board’s (NTSB) preliminary report of the incident said that the ramp agent was about to set the safety cones at the aft of the aircraft, when she was waved off by a colleague who tried to warn her that the engine was still running.

“He observed her as she began to move away from the airplane before he turned to lower the cord for the ground power. Shortly thereafter he heard a “bang” and the engine shut down,” the NTSB’s report read.

As such, the FAA asked airlines to use their Safety Management System or SMS or a similar safety risk management and safety assurance process to evaluate towing and marshaling processes. The evaluation should ensure the requirement to install chocks whenever aircraft towing operations have stopped or when the aircraft is parked at the intended location, as well as that personnel should “remain clear of the aircraft in tow” until it has stopped.

Ground handling procedures should begin only after chocks are installed and personnel should stay clear of operating engines until they are shut off by the flight crews.

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