The International Air Transport Association plans to launch a standardised audit for ground-handing companies in mid-April, reviewing ground operations at as many as 60 airports by year-end.

Called the IATA safety audit for ground operations (ISAGO), the two- to three-day review will cover 11 categories, including airside management and safety, load control, passenger and baggage handling, aircraft fuelling, de-icing, anti-icing, and for the first time, a management review at each company's headquarters.

Although airlines are already required to audit their ground-handling companies, the efforts tend to overlap, each audit is different and there is no data-sharing between airlines or companies, says Mike O'Brien, IATA's director of program implementation and auditing.

"Some of the larger ground-handling companies have full-time staff just to receive the audits," he says. By pooling airline-employed auditors and working to a single standard, large airlines are likely to be able to cut their auditing staff by at least 50%, allowing carriers and ground-handling companies alike to reallocate those employees to "more productive roles", O'Brien says. "It looks like we will be starting with 30 to 40 medium-to large-size airlines in the pool," says O'Brien.

Once an IASGO audit is performed for one ground-handler's operation at a particular airport, any airline working with that company will have access to the audit data, eliminating the need for redundant reviews.

Audits will initially be performed on an annual basis, though the period could be lengthened based on the company's performance and a risk assessment, says O'Brien.

Funding for the programme will come from airlines paying salaries for their auditors and from ground-handling companies through a registration fee. The amount of the fee has not been determined. IATA has completed 12 ISAGO pilot audits at airports ranging from Cairo in Egypt to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.