Seasonal Risks

John Franklin • 24 April 2023
in community Air Operations

Managing operational risks in your organisation is a constant challenge. Particularly when the aviation system is so dynamic. Thankfully, while some risks are hard to predict, there are many seasonal risks that come around year after year. When you augment your normal safety management activity with a seasonal risks mindset you stop playing “Risk Whack-a-Mole” and focus a key part of your safety efforts in an area you can control, mitigate and collaborate on.

This article was developed with easyJet and the EASA Safety Promotion Team spoke to Laura Watson about their seasonal readiness plans in the videocast on the Together4Safety Youtube Channel (and below). You can also listen and subscribe to the Conversation Aviation podcast on Spotify or other podcast services. 

Managing risks has a seasonal element

A key part of the Safety Map of the World is the “Risk” part. When it comes to safety, the goal is to “know your risks and mitigate them effectively as part of a resilient management system.” In a continually changing aviation system, doing that is easier said than done. If we define risk at its simplest level as “any situation involving exposure to danger”. The key question for you and your organisation is then what are you exposed to in your organisation that causes you danger and how will you manage and mitigate those risks? Focussing the greatest effort on the things that might kill people and working back from there.

Given that this part of the magazine is focussed on “Mindset”, we thought it might be useful to introduce you to the concept of having a seasonal approach that underpins your routine risk management activity. If you feel like you are playing risk Whack-a-mole as new things continually pop up from occurrence reports, FDM and other sources, having this type of approach will help you understand and manage many risks that will likely always happen, year after year.

Understanding more about seasonal risks

What type of seasonal risks you face will of course depend on your operation, but many of these are system-wide and could apply to any organisation. One of the benefits of this is that when we sync our seasonal risks schedule, it makes cross-domain and cross-organisational collaboration even easier.

Some seasonal risks centre around traditional leisure tourism seasonality and the pace of business travel. Other factors could include the geographical location of your operation, the weather or even religion (Easter, Christmas or the Hajj) or other cultural factors such as sporting events. Regardless, these kinds of things can be predicted, and the additional risks identified and managed ahead of time. It is much better to be in this mindset than wait for events to happen and deal with the operational challenges as they happen.

What might a seasonal risks calendar look like?

  • Starting with winter ops: The year starts in the middle of the Winter Operations season, this means your people will likely be working outside in cold weather and staffing levels might be impacted by seasonal flu. This can be combatted by wearing the correct clothing, such as thermals and thick material clothing. Of course, this makes it harder to perform some tasks so beware also of risk transfer. Winter also brings skiing (and the skis that cause extra challenges on the ramp for loading, for which you might need extra training or equipment).
  • Easter, increasing operations and birds: As we head towards Easter, leisure travel picks up and flying volumes increase. This means seasonal workers arriving who might not be totally up to speed with the latest processes and procedures. Then the Bird migration season begins, and you might also find challenges with seasonal storms.
  • Ready for summer: Into May the wildlife season really gets going, the summer flying volumes really start to ramp-up so you need to be ready. Warmer weather means more Passengers of Reduced Mobility (PRMs) are likely to be traveling. More people start getting married, meaning more stag and hen parties and an increase in disruptive passengers. As temperatures increase, our staff are now dealing with high temperatures and exposure to the sun for prolonged periods. Exhaustion and dehydration can quickly impact staff performance if they are wearing too many layers or not hydrating often enough. Wearing loose clothing, with your high-vis of course, will help you keep cool in hot temperatures.
  • School holidays: Then, the school holidays really get going. You have unaccompanied minors, lots of families and all the challenges of an increase in people who don’t travel so often. As September starts, people without children travel more, bringing more Mobility Scooters and an increase in the Lithium Battery fire risk.
  • Autumn and winter readiness: As the reserve bird migration starts in October, winter starts to arrive. This brings the need for de-icing, snow clearance and new weather challenges for flight crew. Then, the craziness of Christmas arrives and you get ready to start the whole cycle all over again.
  • Major events: Just to add to the complication, throw in an Olympics, a European World Cup or just a Champions League final and things get more complicated.

Create your own "Seasonal Readiness Map"

The main thing is to create your own “Seasonal Readiness Map” for your operation <we can make a download and amend – or even a print, laminate and wipe clean>. In each month you should identify what seasonal risks you face and also what activities you are doing to look again at what is coming. Forward planning is vital. It might seem silly to be having a winter readiness check in the heat of July but when that first October snowflake falls you’ll be glad you did. Each operator is encouraged to carry out a complete and competent risk assessment based on their operational needs.

Sounds simple right? But what else should you consider?

Your organisation has to be ready and mindful of circumstances and areas of risk that can be predictable and hence action can be proactive. Remember, the definition of the risk box is not just to understand your risks but to mitigate them as well with clear actions.

Let’s take the example of bird migration. This is a seasonal activity and predictable. How does this affect your operations? In many ways is the basic answer, but let us take it further:

  • Airport operations have to be made aware of bird migration in order to have adequate staffing and facilities to deal with birds in the airspace;
  • ATC, Flight planning, and Scheduling may have to change routing and practices accordingly to avoid in-air bird strikes.
  • Flight crew have to be mindful that there is a potential for bird strikes and be extra vigilant;
  • Maintenance personnel may have to carry out additional maintenance, either in the form of unscheduled sheet metal repairs and or boroscope inspections on engines;
  • Cleaning and ground personnel have to be made aware that there may be the possibility of change to schedules at the last minute to accommodate repairs and or change in aircraft for continued operations.

These are just a few examples of how one seasonal risk can affect all the departments of both airport and airline operations. It highlights the importance of having a seasonal mindset and an adequate and flexible “Seasonal Readiness Plan” in place you reduce the amount of “Risk Whack-a-Mole” you have to play. Be proactive and have the right resources in place at the right time (another key box on our Safety Map of the World). Finally, make sure that your staff are aware of the plan and everyone knows who is responsible for what actions. By doing so, we can be ready for changes and risks and help avert the worst-case scenarios that greatly affect our safety and the safety of those around us.



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