The plan can never fail!

A plane that has crashed near a tropical island.

“The emergencies you train for, almost never happen. It’s the one you can’t train for that kills you”. These words by American aviator and author Ernest K. Gann have always stimulated my interest in aviation safety. We can extract one meaning from his statement and for this; I can vouch from my own experience. ‘Be prepared for any eventuality’. For those who work in active airport operational roles they understand well how preparation relates to effective crisis reaction. Due to the complexities and sensitivities surrounding air transport, emergency planning is critically linked to aerodrome operations.

Within the aviation community, Aerodrome Emergency Plan is an assurance. It is a pledge that raises confidence in accountable managers and a promise for quality of service to the public.  For ICAO, the world’s leading aviation authority, AEP is an unescapable regulatory process for all certified airports. It denotes the prominence of a process particularly important in respect of protecting people’s lives. Still, an AEP shall be established and this must reflect appropriately the airport’s proportion of operations.  Nothing on a lesser scale will do.     

What are the Aerodrome Emergency Plan’s objectives then? How do regulators ensure effective implementation? Once we have answers to these questions, it is easier to understand the role of AEP in airport and aircraft operations. The main objective of the plan is “. . . to minimize the effects of an emergency, particularly in respect of saving lives . . .” Therefore, it sets out high standards and expectations. On a similar note, being an integral part of the aerodrome certification process, it is nearly impossible for airport operators to fail AEP implementation.

External agencies have an obligation to support the airport in emergencies

The application and execution of an Aerodrome Emergency Plan extends beyond the airport boundaries. The plan contains firm instructions for a number of civil agencies and administrative organizations from the surrounding communities. In the United Kingdom for example, under a relevant national framework such entities have regulatory obligations to engage in responding to airport emergencies. Who are these agencies to provide support in an airport emergency then? The list includes military units, security services, public health divisions and medical units. 

In general, one of the most important factors bearing success to an emergency plan’s execution is training. Continuous practicing, relevant drills, tuition and theoretical learning, they collectively can built up familiarity on dealing with disasters. Still, the compulsion does not stop at this point. Emergency plans shall contain techniques and procedures at frequent intervals for testing its capacity. Other than the required Emergency Exercises, stakeholders should host table-top discussions, teachings, and lectures for instance. Combined, these activities built up staff resilience, knowledge and know-how in dealing with diverse disasters.

Going back to my opening statement, for me the best way to deal with emergencies is to anticipate the most unpleasant, unexpected and unpredictable scenarios. The planning process must incorporate a degree of imagination and an endless list of ‘what if’ questions. This will allow operators to be adequately prepared to respond to misadventures. Predict every eventuality so later you will not regret for having unexploited important details!

NOTE: @airportbureau we would like to hear your views on the subject of Emergency Planning. What should the plan include? What should airport operators do differently? Feel free to post your comments or safety related suggestions.

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