Not learning from our mistakes

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It is human nature to be at fault occasionally. We make mistakes. And we learn from them. Mistakes or screw-ups are a prelude to perfection. At least that’s how it should be with most people or organizations. You make a mistake, you analyze its roots and causes and then you take remedial steps not to repeat the same practices that resulted in that mistake.

But that’s not always the case with some people or institutions. In spite of repeated events that prove to be failing, I notice a lack of tenacity to address this cycle of blunders that has become a fixture in some organization’s policy and procedure manual.

Take the case of the Kingdom’s General Authority of Civil Aviation or GACA as it is referred to. It has the propensity to appear in the news whenever something goes wrong. Coincidence, you ask? Not really. Because news items that usually appear on the GACA invariably have to do with some major shortcomings that had appeared at one of our Kingdom’s airports.

Now the GACA has been involved with the running of our airports. It is a government funded bureaucracy with set rules. And I suppose with their own set of bureaucrats. So here’s what happened recently.

An event such as the Haj being over and overseas pilgrims making their way to Jeddah airport for their flights back home is not something new. Year after year the scenario remains pretty much the same. The airports receive departing pilgrims and process their documents and prepare them for departure.

It may sound like a simple task and one that has been repeated for the past fifty years, but it doesn’t always go smoothly. This year as in previous years King Abdulaziz International Airport (KAIA) in Jeddah faced crowding and luggage pile-up issues, a situation not alien at this time of the year. Sources said that many pilgrims left for their homes overseas without their luggage. There were more than 2,000 luggage pieces still lying near the carousels waiting to be shipped, they added.

According to a news report, the top banana and president of the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) Abdul Hakeem Al-Tamimi ‘admitted a number of shortcomings at the airport but said measures would be taken to correct the situation. He also criticized the lack of coordination among the 27 security, government and private agencies in addition to air companies and the ground services working at the airport.”

The GACA also said that despite remedial measures, with ‘more than 18 international flights are taking off from Haj Terminal everyday carrying home-bound Haj pilgrims. The number of workers at the carousels has also been increased to handle the huge number of luggage. The airport’s annual capacity is 13 million passengers. It has been increased to 19 million with about 13 million currently using the facility,’ the sources said.

And in true bureaucratic fashion, blame had to be quickly shuffled elsewhere. The GACA chief criticized the lack of coordination among the 27 security, government and private agencies in addition to air companies and the ground services working at the airport. The GACA also blamed flight delays, the pressure on luggage conveyor belts and the inappropriate grouping of pilgrims to be among the reasons for the crowding of passengers and the pile-up of luggage at the KAIA. They also said the employees of the ground services did not observe the permitted weight of the luggage causing the breakdown of conveyor belts. The chief added that he noticed shortcomings in the quality of services due to several factors. These include the airport’s infrastructure and poor coordination among the authorities at the airport.

Al-Tamimi said: “During the visits and inspection tours of the airport terminals during the past few days, a number of shortcomings in the services were detected. Hence, a comprehensive study will be conducted to improve the services provided to passengers. An administrative unit linked to the GACA will be set up. Its main goal will be to monitor the quality of services, raise the level of coordination and lay down the necessary regulations and administrative procedures for providing these services.”

What I don’t understand for the life of me is what is the GACA doing after the fact? Setting up an administrative unit to address repeated failures reflects a failure in the thought process of this bureaucracy. Blaming others when you are in charge of coordinating the smooth transfer of pilgrims and their belongings borders on total incompetence.

Thank God, most of the airports in the Kingdom will soon be managed by world-class operators. No more feeble excuses from the GACA who just don’t seem to have learned from past mistakes.

— The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


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