United see 60% drop in aircraft ground damage

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United Airlines will decrease its ground aircraft damage rate by 60% or more by the end of the year, says John DeGiovanni, managing director of ground safety for United Airlines.

The Chicago-based carrier saw ground damage affecting 225 United legacy aircraft, which had a fleet of about 350 aircraft, in 2010. DeGiovanni predicts that the number will decrease to about 142 out of more than 700 aircraft - about a 63% decrease - by the end of this year.

The damage, usually caused by coming into contact with vehicles or other structures on the ground, can require from a few hours on a narrowbody aircraft to several days on a widebody aircraft to fix.

The improvement is largely attributable to the airline's attempts to make data more transparent, says DeGiovanni. The carrier has also implemented a policy of promoting round-the-clock safety among employees in order to make sure that they are practicing good safety habits not only on the clock, but also when at home.

United is also focused on fostering dialogue between employees on the ground and high-level executives. The airline's chief executive Jeff Smisek has about 14 exchanges with line employees per quarter, says DeGiovanni.

The airline is hitting its performance targets for safety and this year will have 12 "gold level" operations stations achieving outstanding safety performance, he says.