How to prevent baggage tug accidents and damage

Baggage tugs are so common within everyday airside operations that they’re often thought to be one of the most simple pieces of ground handling equipment found at an airport.

But did you know that they feature in more airside accidents than almost any other ground handling equipment and can cause fatalities?

Common airside accidents include vehicle turnovers, crush incidents involving workers and pedestrians, aircraft strikes and trap injuries caused during coupling/uncoupling.

What makes baggage tugs prone to accidents?

Like most other ground handling equipment involved in aircraft turnaround operations, baggage tugs often operate in confined, highly congested areas where many other equipment operations and pedestrians are present.

However, unlike other many other pieces of equipment found airside, baggage tugs are small, making them difficult to see and difficult to hear above the ambient noise of the working environment (in the case of electric tugs). On top of all this, they offer relatively little protection to the operator.

With a heavy emphasis on turnaround times, the pressure to get baggage and cargo unloaded/loaded is intense, which in turn adds its own risk to equipment operation.

Safer baggage tug operations

As with any ground support equipment, training is vital to ensure the safety of operators, equipment and nearby pedestrians. It is essential that training prepares operators not just for the vehicle but also the environment where the vehicle will be used.

Baggage tugs may initially seem simple to operate; however, basic baggage tug operator training, followed by specific operator training covering the likes of control configuration, handling characteristics and safety features is essential for safe and efficient operation.

Once operators are comfortable with this, it’s essential that they then undergo a period of on-the-job supervised baggage tug training to ensure that they can apply what they have learned in the context of their day-to-day work.

Maintain your equipment

The condition of equipment used on the apron plays a vital role in the prevention of airside incidents. Identifying defects and faults before they become major problems is good for overall safety and it can result in less time lost due to major faults putting equipment out of use, and fewer injuries caused by serious equipment failures. But it’s not just about the motorised equipment; when it comes to baggage tugs, trailer condition is often overlooked.

From missing brake blocks to missing or loose wheel bolts, tyre issues to coupling mechanism faults, trailers are vulnerable to component failure, just like the tug itself. It’s easy to find trailers in poor condition by simply walking around any airfield.

Most operations will have a well-managed equipment service and maintenance schedule, but operator pre-use inspection is often overlooked as an important part of daily operations that can reduce maintenance costs and lost time.

Driving defective and ill-maintained equipment on the ramp can have serious consequences for operators, pedestrian staff, passengers and aircraft. Tug faults could result in steering issues, brake problems or reliability problems. Trailer faults could lead to stability issues, resulting in shed loads at best and overturned tugs at worst.

Taking care of equipment doesn’t take as long as you think! By taking even just 10 minutes at the beginning of a shift, operators can make a huge difference when it comes to identifying potential issues that might have serious safety consequences further down the road.

Pedestrian awareness is essential

In a noisy airside environment, it’s difficult to hear electric tugs above the noise of aircraft engines, vehicles and other operations.

General pedestrian awareness is essential, as is keeping to designated safe areas, especially on the apron during turnaround procedures.

When considering equipment selection and use, it’s important to consider how pedestrians will behave in the operating environment – they are often prone to taking shortcuts such as stepping over couplings rather than walking around a tug and its string of trailers. This can result in serious injuries if the tug moves off. Simple devices like safety hoops to prevent operatives stepping over couplings, along with training that tackles these sorts of behaviours can go a long way to improving safety.

RTITB Airside Training Consultancy

For help with planning, creating, delivering or auditing airside vehicle and GSE driver training, the RTITB Airside team can help. Wherever you are in the world, the expert team can provide support with airside inspection and ground handling audit services, standardized airside equipment Instructor training, bespoke airside vehicle operator training courses, and more.

Get in touch to find out more.