Privatization of Midway would be well served by State-of-the-Art Airport Safety Management System

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ARTICLE: Chicago considers six to run Midway


The City of Chicago owns Midway Airport and is considering privatization of this facility under the FAA’s program. Under the statute the proprietor may sell or lease the asset to a private entity which assumes control of operating the endeavor.

This process is very difficult for most political bodies, because the essence of governing is control. Elected officials relish the opportunity to show their constituents how wisely (s)he cast their vote for a major or alderman by exercising authority over an important public issue like safety. This is one of the reasons why six of the ten applications listed at the FAA website were either withdrawn or terminated; politicians like control or at least appreciate having insights into the airports’ operations. However, the sale or lease document can define the level of control to be ceded.

An option, which Chicago (and/or the bidders) might consider, is to require the successful bidder to initiate the FAA’s and international aviation community’s state-of-art safety discipline called Safety Management Systems (SMS). This requirement would place the onus of meeting or exceeding the FAA safety regulations on the privatizing company. It would, at the same time, provide the Mayor and the alderman with reports about that operator’s preventative actions to assure the highest levels of safety now and for the future.

The 360° SMS review of the airport involves all of the professionals responsible for the safe operation as well as all of the airport operators (carriers, concessionaires, etc.) in a continuous search for enhanced safety. SMS is based on amassing data with seemingly infinitesimal detail. Then a smart computer, that collects the numbers, performs statistical analyses to detect trends. Those “lines” point to areas for which attention is due.

SMS is more than just a quantitative analyst’s nirvana; the discipline involves all of the people who are on the runways, taxiways, gates, hangars, fuel farms, tenant areas and connecting roads for trucks and other vehicles. They share their views and vision as to what works and what needs to be reviewed. That qualitative assessment is included and the SMS prioritizes the order in which concerns merit response.

SMS has been cited as one of the reasons why air carrier safety performance has risen. Because it encourages self-criticism and the exercise benefits from independent knowledge/judgment, it has been found that involving 3rd party consultants helps in the implementation of SMS.

Involving SMS consultants will assure that the successful privatization bidder is aggressively pursuing safety and will provide the City of Chicago important insights as to how this independent contractor is fulfilling its safety mission at Midway. JDA third party safety reporting and oversight services would be a good means of balancing control with the need to know.

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