A couple of weeks ago a question came into the Aerodromes Inspectorate at work regarding the accuracy of airline scales at airports. In Australia, that's not necessarily an airport operator's responsibility and is not covered by our aerodrome regulations. Anyway, that's not the point of this post. This earlier event made me notice this story from the LA Times on the same topic, so I read with interest to see what other countries do. I couldn't exactly work out whether it was the airport or airlines responsibility but in Los Angeles at least, a government department comes in to give the scales the big tick of approval. But the angle of the story was what really stood out.
The journalist writing the story and the policy of the responsible bureau puts the emphasis of the process on money - basically the airline's attempts to charge the passenger for excess baggage. While that is by far the most apparent effect of these scales that is not why they are there.
Switching back to Australia now - an airline is required to have scales at an airport thanks to Civil Aviation Orders 82.3 and 82.5. The need for accurate weight calculations is spread across a range of other regulations. They are a safety device designed to provide the airline/pilot-in-command with an accurate weight of what is being thrown on to the aircraft. Why? Well, in the first instance if the aircraft is too heavy, it doesn't get off the ground and in the second instance, if weight is not distributed around the aircraft appropriately, it may be or become uncontrollable in flight. Accident databases have plenty of records of overloaded and out-of-balance aircraft accidents.
Back to the story - here is what is required when a scale is found to be inaccurate:
"If a scale is off by more than one-tenth of a pound in favor of the airline, bureau inspectors put the scale out of service until it is repaired. If a scale is off in favor of the passenger, it can still be used but must be repaired within 30 days, said Jeff Humphreys, deputy director of the bureau."
So if the scale over-reads by 45 grams its instantly out of service - good, not extra baggage tax! But if it under-reads by any amount (no limit stated) the airline has 30 days to fix it, really? So overloading an aircraft is okay but overcharging passengers is not okay?
I see this type of thing a lot. People doing something which appears to be correct but on closer examination it's for the wrong reason. It is very important to ensure that what you do is for the right reasons because over time, the wrong reasons might mean something is missed or worse, your actions contribute to an accident.
An example from my recent experience goes like this:
An airport operator was not providing an aerodrome works safety officer for minor works (slashing, etc.). They got pulled up by transport security officials because at the same time they weren't providing the appropriate security escort. The airport operator's solution was to provide staff with the appropriate security card to supervise the works and lucky for me, those people were all trained works safety officers.
But what happens when someone working for that operator gets an appropriate security card but not the required works safety officer training?
If the operator is not doing the right things for the right reasons, they could easily end up with an unqualified person supervising aerodrome works with no understanding of the risks they are meant to be controlling. They might not even have the right equipment (e.g. an airband radio) because the procedure has morphed into a security role and safety has been forgotten.
Killing two birds with one stone is fine, but make sure you remember to kill 'em both all the time*
Something to consider when you do your next aerodrome manual review, right?
* I am not condoning violence towards animals - even though I'm under siege from swooping magpies at the moment.