Jamie Henderson and Isaac Henderson developed a safety management system for Palmerston North Airport as a part of their Bachelor of Aviation Mangement.

Aviation students improve safety at PN airport

Two Massey University aviation students have spent around 300 hours developing a safety management system for Palmerston North Airport as part of a university project.

Jamie Henderson and Isaac Henderson (who are not related) both graduated with their Bachelor of Aviation Management from Massey University this week. As part of a ‘special topic’ for their degree, the duo developed an integrated safety management model for the airport that has also attracted the attention of other aviation organisations.

“Safety management systems are a relatively new concept,” says Isaac. “The Civil Aviation Authority has indicated they will be legally mandated in the future and Palmerston North Airport has taken a proactive approach to making sure they have a framework in place before it becomes a legal requirement.”

“The other problem is that many organisations have found some of the policy documents released by the CAA difficult to interpret,” says Jamie. “When we spoke to industry organisations, it became clear that many were grappling with how to implement a safety management system.

“We saw there was a need for research in this area and an opportunity for us to create some commercial opportunities for ourselves as well.”

Isaac says many in the aviation industry were having difficulties with this new approach and felt the policy guidelines were “a bit airy fairy”. They were keen to understand how to implement the changes in the real world.

“Previously, organisations have been quite reactive – an incident happens and they look at ways they can ensure it doesn’t happen again. But this new approach is about risk analysis and stopping potential accidents before they happen. It is about integrating safety into everything an organisation does.”

“It’s like comparing a diet to lifestyle,” Jamie adds. “You’re more likely to be successful if you make changes to your lifestyle than if you just start a diet in isolation.”

Palmerston North Airport agreed to be the duo’s project case study and they spent many hours speaking to people at all levels within the organisation, from senior management to frontline employees. The end result was a 200-page report that included a gap analysis outlining the changes the airport needed to make to meet future legislative requirements and an implementation plan to close those gaps.

Glen Pleasants, the airport’s Manager Aeronautical and Infrastructure, says the report will be “incredibly useful” as the airport revamps its safety management systems.

“What Isaac and Jamie produced was a full front-to-back safety management system so it’s going to take time to work through it all, but it’s definitely saved me a lot of time,” he says.

“The CAA is pushing airports in this direction but some of their most useful recommendations go above and beyond what the CAA is requiring. They have researched global best practice and even uncovered ways of meeting ACC requirements to decrease our levies. It’s all incredibly useful.”

While the students’ report was customised for Palmerston North Airport, they were able to develop a framework and templates for more general use – and other aviation organisations have expressed interest in their work. One has already contracted their services to implement a safety management system.

While Jamie and Isaac hope their fledgling consultancy business will continue to attract clients, they recognise the market for implementing safety management systems is quite small in New Zealand. So both are currently undertaking their Masters of Aviation Management at Massey and pursuing other aviation research projects.

“I’m always keeping my eye open for commercial opportunities,” Jamie says. “It’s great to be able to get some practical, real-world experience while studying and even make a little bit of money on the side.”

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