in Features / Airports

Checks will help safety hit the APEX

Posted 2 August 2017 · Add Comment

Airports Council International (ACI) is offering a free review service for its members, which ends in a 100% confidential report on airport safety vulnerabilities. Victoria Moores spoke to ACI Africa secretary general, Ali Tounsi, to learn more about the programme.

When something is wrong, it is a good idea to seek confidential advice so any problems can be identified and treated. And when those health worries affect aviation safety, seeking those answers can literally be a matter of life and death.
In 2011, ACI picked Africa as the launch region for a new ‘airport excellence (APEX) in safety’ programme, where airport executives review one another’s operations and give feedback on potential safety improvements. The information is then compiled by ACI and detailed findings are presented back to the host airport.
“It started as an African programme and now it’s worldwide, because even very big airports need an external review covering safety and so on,” explained ACI Africa secretary general Ali Tounsi. “The idea is like ‎Médecins Sans Frontières (doctors without borders). It’s free. It’s done on a volunteer basis, with no cost.”
Lomé in Togo hosted the first APEX review. Tounsi said the airport has since become a reference point and, in 2016, it was recognised by ACI as having achieved the most significant safety improvement among African airports.
Airports put themselves forward to be reviewed and only have to pay travel and hotel expenses for the visiting assessors. Even this minimal cost is sometimes waived, because the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) sees so much value in the project that it is sometimes willing to pay the experts’ expenses. With this in mind, EASA has signed a partnership agreement, providing funding for developing countries in central and west Africa to put their airports through the programme.
Likewise, the World Bank supported an APEX review of Cairo airport and is interested in airports going through the process before it funds projects. Also, the Southern African Development Community (SADEC) has asked ACI to come and review its airports.
“We pay no one, it’s done on a volunteer basis,” Tounsi said. “We have 1,900 airports in the world as members and among them there are very, very highly skilled staff who are willing to help.” He added that it was a great experience to be on the team. Alongside being ACI Africa secretary general, Tounsi himself is a safety auditor.
The process starts with a detailed safety questionnaire that the host airport completes three months before the visit. “Once we have the questionnaire responses, we can focus on the skills that the airport needs,” he said.
ACI uses this information to assemble a team of safety experts from across its member airports worldwide, picking from a pool of specialists in areas like aerodrome ground operations, fire-fighting, or wildlife hazards. The size of the team depends on the size of the airport. The minimum is six people, but this can go as high as 15-20 for a large hub like Beijing. The team usually includes at least one person from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
“The principle of this programme is that it is a peer review but, in practice, it’s like an ICAO audit. It’s the same process but we don’t come as auditors – we come on a friendly basis, like a doctor. We tell you where the gaps are and how to address them, based on the team’s experience and ACI best practices.”
But surely ICAO’s presence makes the host airport nervous? “No, quite the opposite,” Tounsi said. “When ICAO comes on an official basis, people get nervous and stressed but when it comes on a friendly basis, people welcome us and are very happy to share information and discuss solutions. We have an agreement that ICAO can accompany us on all the APEXs.”
Going back to the idea of the doctor’s surgery, even ICAO does not get to see the full APEX report and any information that is secured during the visit must remain confidential.
The peer review itself is based on ICAO Annex 14 and 19, as well as ACI best practices. Annex 14, sets out standards and recommended practices (SARPs) for airport design and operations, while Annex 19 focuses on safety management.
During the five-day review, the experts assess the airport infrastructure, runways, taxiways, parking, lighting systems, obstacles, the airfield, fire-fighting equipment, wildlife hazards, human resources, safety management system (SMS) procedures and implementation. Each expert identifies the host airport’s weaknesses in their own specialist area and they submit a short report on what they find, along with suggestions for improvement.
“For example, we always have two people covering all aspects of fire-fighting, including equipment, infrastructure, procedure and exercises. This is just one part,” Tounsi said.
At the end of the five days, the findings are shared with the host airport’s CEO through a two-hour verbal presentation. The assessors then send their individual summaries to ACI’s headquarters in Montreal, where they are compiled into a detailed review. The final report is then sent to the host airport roughly a month after the audit, along with suggested solutions to any problems.
“The biggest gap is usually knowledge, so we have created courses for airports to learn the basics,” Tounsi said.
This APEX safety assessor training programme launched in March 2016 and is now used to train other experts. This is one of a range of ACI courses, which cover aerodromes, air routes and ground aids (AGA) training, safety management systems implementation and ICAO Annex 14. The course is free; the host just has to provide the classroom, food and the accommodation for the trainer. The trainer’s fee is covered by ACI.
“We train them for their own airports, but also to join us as a partner. It’s a cooperation. If you are trained by ACI for free, you have to come back and help other airports. This is in the agreement,” Tounsi said. “We try everything in Africa and, if it is good, we spread it out for the world. Maybe it will become a world programme.”
Last year, 22 people went on the first APEX safety assessor course in Morocco and, at the time of writing, another 25 were going through the programme in Tunisia. Others have been held in Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Togo.
“There are a lot of people involved in safety, such as the Civil Aviation Association (CAA), the airport, handling companies, airlines and air navigation service providers (ANSPs). The problem is that each of these groups works from their own perspective and they don’t collaborate. Everyone has their own ideas about safety and sometimes these ideas are conflicting and never get harmonised. The course brings them all into one classroom for two weeks and gives them the same information about certification and SMS, with a lot of practical exercises. It’s a great success.”
In total, ACI gave around 300 free training courses and scholarships in 2016 and Tounsi said the target figure for 2017 is even higher. “We are in a good financial situation to dedicate more for training, so 10% of our income will go into it,” he said.
ACI has already performed APEX safety reviews on 25 African airports and more are planned for 2017, including Bangui M’Poko International Airport, which serves the capital of the Central African Republic. In total, 67 airports worldwide have now been through the programme.
Building on the success of the programme, ACI has begun rolling out an APEX in security, following the same model. This also started in Africa, with Mauritius performing the pilot review in 2016.
“Now we are starting the APEX security programme worldwide, also working with ICAO and the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Maybe, in future, we will expand APEX to economics, the environment and so on, but our main focus in Africa is safety and security. In Africa, the CAA and the airport themselves exist in two separate worlds. One is the administrator, the other is the operator and sometimes there is not much cooperation. This is the reality in Africa.”

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