Accountability is the Answer

Donna Speidel
Published in: 

Airport Improvement Magazine generally discusses success stories in the industry, but airports don't always win, do they? Too often they end up on the short end of the stick during construction projects. We give airports and their project teams credit when it's due, but who is accountable when airports lose?

When specific aspects of a job are performed poorly, and no one is held accountable, the airport pays the price.

Donna Speidel is president of Sightline, Airport Marking Consultants, and primary author of The Airfield Marking Handbook, published in 2008 under a cooperative research agreement between the Innovative Pavement Research Foundation and the FAA. She is a subject matter expert and provides training about airfield markings to engineers, FAA personnel, airport staff, inspectors and applicators.

Whether a project is in the design stage or substantially complete, each aspect of the work must be done well for the entire project to perform as the airport expects. When any part fails, the entire project becomes suspect. Any portion of a project could be discussed in this regard, but I'm going to narrow it down to the field in which I live and work: airfield markings.

The proper installation of airfield markings, as with all disciplines, begins in the design phase, when an engineer writes the specifications and develops the plans. If specifications are written loosely (as is usually the case with airfield markings), everyone downstream is "on their honor" to do the right thing and take responsibility (be accountable) for their portion of the work.

Along the way, plenty of things can go wrong: not enough paint and glass beads are applied, less expensive/lower quality materials are selected, or the striping subcontractor and/or inspector are uninformed about the best practices of installing airfield markings. When problems arise at the airport months later, there is no evidence that the work was done correctly; there is only evidence of it failing. In those cases, operations personnel notify maintenance, and maintenance arranges to have the markings fixed. No one is usually held accountable for the failure. Furthermore, the problems will continue and they become the airport's responsibility, because the FAA will hold the airport accountable for the discrepancy.

And so the cycle continues.   

Ideally, everyone would take responsibility and be held accountable for his or her portion of a project. The sequence would be:  

  • Specifications are written concisely and accurately - including performance standards that are identifiable and quantifiable.

  • Qualified contractors with a proven history of good workmanship are hired for application. Low bid should not necessarily win the job.

  • Quality control methods are defined; supervisors use tools to ensure that work was performed according to plans and specifications.

  • Inspectors armed with the proper tools and standards are knowledgeable about airfield marking and do not consider any aspect of a project to be "incidental."

  • Warranties are enforced so failures do not become the airport's responsibility.

When engineers specify performance requirements and inspectors (or specialty sub-consultants) are truly knowledgeable about airfield markings and how to install them properly, accountability for performance becomes quantifiable and enforceable before the project is complete.

In an ideal world, everyone takes responsibility for his or her own actions; but all too often, corners are cut and poor workmanship goes undetected. That's when airports end up losing, because they don't get what they paid for. There are countless explanations for the lapses: time is short, money is tight, competition is stiff, etc. But there is really no acceptable excuse.

Accountability should be an integral part of any airport improvement project - whether it includes airfield markings or not. When accountability is in place and attention is paid to details throughout a project, long-term success follows closely behind. 

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