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‘Walk a day in my shoes’: Airport Safety Week preparations get underway

Gary McGivern says the myriad organisations working side by side at an airport is one of the great things about the industry – and also one of its challenges.

As chair of the AAA Airport Operations Safety Network Group, he has seen firsthand how safety outcomes can be enhanced through good collaboration and a shared understanding of airport safety.

So when deciding on the theme for this October’s Airport Safety Week, he says the choice was obvious: Walk a day in my shoes.

“When we all come together, with all our safety management systems and safety focus areas, we make it a better place and a safer place to be,” McGivern says.

“Rather than just focusing on your own role and working in a silo, it’s important to recognise other people’s mistakes can have an impact on you, and yours can impact them – it’s about the bigger picture and what airports can do to improve safety when everyone works together.”

McGivern’s involvement with Airport Safety Week started in its very first year in 2014, when the AAA joined forces with the Australasian Airport Safety Group to create the event.

The event attracted widespread attention, with industry representatives from a number of locations overseas reaching out to the AAA to find out how the initiative could be adopted in other locations.

Now a fixture on the airport calendar, Airport Safety Week has expanded to involve the wider airport community and not just capital city airports but airports in regional Australia.

Working at Canberra Airport, where he is currently the manager – airside operations, McGivern has watched this evolution take place – and seen what it’s achieved.

“Every year, the number of aerodromes that have actually signed up has certainly increased and there’s been a big increase in the number of regional aerodromes taking part,” he says

“We’re getting a lot more understanding and buy in from aviation industry participants such as Qantas, Virgin and the ground handlers – they’re getting more involved from a safety aspect and we’re talking more about what our roles are and how we can work together more safely.

“There’s good understanding, improved reporting and better sharing of practices and procedures.”

The annual Foreign Object Debris (FOD) walk has become a particular highlight, with staff from across the airport signing up to take part.

“That’s really critical because a lot of people who work at airports rarely get airside – they might be based in a terminal or head office – and so the only time they venture airside is during safety week or as a passenger,” McGivern says.

“When they take part in the FOD walk they receive a safety briefing before they head airside. During the FOD walk they are surprised at some of the items  they pick up off the Apron, things they’d never expect to be found airside – it’s a real eye opener for the accountant,  corporate services team, legal team”.

“When they return to their normal working environment they talk about their experience and inadvertently it becomes a bit of an educational tool as well.”

For the country’s major airports, additional events during Airport Safety Week such as special guest speakers from organisations such as CASA, ATSB, state/territory WHS regulators and planned airside bus tours for the wider airport community such as business and retail parks tenants have been well received.

McGivern says this has been particularly important for communicating how tenants working in or around the airport precincts can support and enhance not just safety but security awareness, with these events providing insights beyond what staff and tenants may see when working in an office or terminal.

But it’s in the regions where Airport Safety Week has perhaps had an even greater impact. With fewer resources and smaller budgets than their capital city counterparts, Airport Safety Week has provided an easy way for regional airports to become involved and access safety messages to share with their community.

Aerosweep sales manager Rod Carey agrees, having sponsored a competition to award one of the company’s innovative FOD*BOSS airport tarmac sweepers to a regional airport.

The company will award a free FOD*BOSS in 2018, recognising the importance of sharing the safety message with regional airports and ensuring they have access to affordable resources to help small council teams.

He says the FOD walk during Airport Safety Week showcased an essential part of safety no matter what the airport size.

“Being involved with Airport Safety Week is an absolute no brainer, as the more information on FOD reduction provided to airports on mass has to be beneficial – not only to the airports, but the carriers and airliners in general,” Carey says.

In 2017, the FOD*BOSS Sweeper was won by East Gippsland Shire Council, after aerodromes coordinator Jason Connelly submitted a poem on airport safety. The council operates three aerodromes, with the airport sweeper able to be transported between each location.

Connelly says the win had made a significant difference and “local tenants, visiting pilots now make comment that this is one of the tidiest country airfields. It has now awoken the sleeping giant, with opportunities from external businesses knocking on the door.”

Carey says the council’s win was well-deserved and the airport was an ideal candidate for the prize.

“Increasing the safety level through a robust maintenance program was paramount for them, and this was really highlighted in our engagement with the team as part of Airport Safety Week last year,” Carey said.

“A FOD reduction program utilising the FOD*BOSS, matched in well with their needs as it was highly transportable between aerodromes and can be used without formal training and ongoing maintenance costs.

“With the release of new free iphone and android apps, FOD walks and sweeps can now be logged with important information such as areas covered, FOD collection rates and dates and times, adding additional top spin to the war on FOD.”

For McGivern, the focus now is on encouraging as many Australian aerodromes as possible to sign up for 2018 as the event continues to grow.

“There’s been an increased involvement with more airports signing up to Airport Safety Week over the last few years and a lot more collaboration between ourselves and the regulators with more focus on each others’ safety management systems,” he says.

“There’s a lot of the theory behind safety as well as the fun side – it’s not a boring subject.”

Airport safety week takes place from 15-19 October. You can register your airport today and sign up for regular updates ahead of the event. A FOD*BOSS airport runway sweeper will be up for grabs as part of the Airport Safety Week competition.

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