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Does Outsourcing Maintenance Pose Additional Risk to Flight Safety?

Updated: Oct 1, 2019

Despite the large amount of research available in aviation regarding human factors, pertaining to aircrew, there are limited sources available for ground-crew, specifically maintenance, logistics and ramp operations. We must acknowledge that absence of data, is not necessarily absence of an underlying issue.

In comparison to aircrew operations, ground handling and associated tasks are very unique with regard to the human factor interfaces. Irwin, et al. (2017) state, “despite the recognition of multiple factors that might have an adverse impact on maintenance, there is a lack of research examining the skills and techniques required for minimizing error and ensuring safe performance” (p. 106). Perhaps complicating the issue for the flight line environment, is the presence of multiple enterprise overlapping the other, which highlights the multiple sub-sets of culture, behaviours, policy and process. More specifically, the introduction of third parties due to outsourcing has the capacity to reduce overall quality safety on the flightline, largely due to the increased interactions between companies (Drury, Guy & Wenner, 2010). While the use of outsourcing has a particular focus on business strategy, it may not necessarily have a positive effect when thinking about how best to integrate a safety management system (SMS).

In terms of airport and ramp operations, these aspects present a wider risk to the public and the community if not captured appropriately in a proactive and predictive framework. By outsourcing critical aspects of aircraft safety, including maintenance, fuel operations, and logistic supply chains, are you reducing or increasing the likelihood of a safety occurrence? While as a company you may have a robust system in itself, there is a responsibility for continuing airworthiness as an airline to share safety related information with other enterprises. Perhaps the notion of communication, learning and reporting extend beyond that of the parent organisation (Ek & Akselsson, 2007). However, this largely depends on the wider regulation of the airport and its respective SMS. These issues beg the question for how best to unite SMS from whole of business, to whole of enterprise, which can accurately and efficiently integrate reporting in real time for holistic decision making in order to prevent safety occurrences in the first instance.


Drury, C. G., Guy, K. P., & Wenner, C. A. (2010). Outsourcing Aviation Maintenance: Human Factors Implications, Specifically for Communications. The International Journal of Aviation Psychology,20(2), 124-143. doi:10.1080/10508411003617771

Ek, A. & Akselsson, R. (2007). Aviation on the Ground: Safety Culture in a Ground Handling Company. International Journal of Aviation Psychology,17(1), 59-76. doi:10.1207/s15327108ijap1701_4

Irwin, A., Taylor, S., Laugerud, E., & Roberts, D. (2017). Investigating Non-Technical Skills in Scottish and English Aircraft Maintenance Teams Using a Mixed Methodology of Interviews and a Questionnaire. The International Journal of Aviation Psychology,26(3-4), 105-119. doi:10.1080/10508414.2017.1319734

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