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Aviation Consultants Say Airport Ramp Employees Remain Caught in Unsafe Work Jungle

22 Jul, 2023 Chriss Swaney

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Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) -- The recent death of two ramp workers being sucked into jet engines comes as no surprise to Ross Aimer, a former airport ramp worker and 747 pilot.

“These deaths illustrate the safety risks on airport ramps where planes are parked, baggage is loaded and unloaded, tanks are refueled and catering is delivered. It is a very noisy, confusing, hazardous area,’’ said Aimer, CEO of Aero Consulting Experts and an experienced pilot with 60 years and 34,000 hours of worldwide heavy jet flight time.

“To cut costs, airlines are hiring third party subcontractors for ramp work and many of these companies are not properly training their minimum wage employees,’’ said Aimer.

Courtney Edwards, a passenger service agent at Piedmont Airlines, was killed in December 2022 after she came too close to the engine of an Embraer E175 aircraft at Montgomery Regional Airport.

And a 27-year-old airport employee died last month in San Antonio, Texas after being sucked into the engine of a Delta plane. At the time, a medical examiner ruled that the worker had taken his own life. But Aimer points out that there is no mental health training or supervision for any of these aviation workers. Since 1969, more than 20 airport workers have been sucked into airplane engines, according to airline industry analysts.

Even the Government Accountability Office found the lack of a comprehensive safety program for airport ramp areas stems from the divided responsibilities for areas around planes. Airports and airlines control the areas immediately around gates, where accidents are investigated by OHSA or the NTSB, while the FAA oversees taxiways and runways.

“Nobody is really monitoring these ramp accidents or the reason for them,” said Aimer. “We find the most dangerous time for a pilot is getting the plane into the gate and avoiding hitting something or someone,’’ Aimer said.

NTSB investigators found workers cutting corners to move planes on the tarmac and often getting injured when crews were unable to remove tow bars that become stuck on nose wheels after tugs pushed planes away from gates.

“When I started out as a ramp worker there were trained engineers from each airline towing planes to the gates, but that is not the case today,’’ said Aimer.

“All stakeholders really need to come together to make ramp work safer,’’ said Aimer, who began his aviation career as a ramp worker. “It was a very difficult job with all the fuel fumes, noise and tight deadlines,’’ Aimer recalled.

“It is a recipe for disaster,’’ he added.

To help address some of the ramp safety issues, the International Air Transport Association has published a Ground Operations Manual on the best ways for contractors to secure a plane, bring baggage, food and fuel trucks close to the fuselage, and load a plane. Voluntary participation in the safety program is growing to nearly 200 airports worldwide.

Ramp accidents cost major airlines worldwide at least $10 billion a year, according to industry data. These accidents affect airport operations, result in personnel injuries, and damage aircraft, facilities and ground-support equipment.


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    About The Author

    • Chriss Swaney

      Chriss Swaney is a freelance reporter who has written for Antique Trader Magazine, Reuters, The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, the Burlington Free Press, UPI, The Tribune-Review and the Daily Record.

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