Aviation safety management systems are not monsters that appeared out of space. For many years, airlines and airports have focused on managing safety. However, they are not been any standards and the practices of one airline or airport was not the same of another airport.
With responsible airlines, the problem of safety management was a way that these airlines did business. However, not every operator was acting responsibly and there were no standardized rules and regulations that applied to operators around the world. Operators were duct taping aircraft and hauling passengers around. In a way, it reminds one of an Indiana Jones movie where the pilot is flying an old aircraft in a third world country.
The aviation safety management system is to ensure aviation service providers comply with a set of minimum guidelines (regulations) in order to keep providing services to the public. Aviation safety management systems did not apply only to airlines and airports. Aviation maintenance service providers, fixed base operators, flight schools, air traffic control and corporate charter operators also had to comply with these regulations. The level of complexity of the aviation safety management system corresponded to the complexity of the operation. This is a very subjective call.
Subjectivity is only part of the puzzle. Interpretation among external aviation SMS auditors and civil aviation authorities is also causing some grief for operators attempting to comply with aviation SMS regulations. But this goes beyond the scope of this section. The main purpose of an aviation safety management system is to ensure all operators have an approved, standardized way of managing risk in their operations. The aviation SMS program is not designed to increase government involvement; however, the aviation safety management system does required oversight by the civil aviation authorities.
An aviation safety management system is a formal set of policies, procedures and actions that are followed by the entire organization to ensure operational risk is reduced to as low as reasonably possible or practical. ICAO has published a set of guidelines for operators to use as their template for aviation SMS implementations. Many civil aviation authorities have followed suite, so it is common to see, for example, the Transport Canada SMS implementation template guidelines which can be used as a sample SMS implementation sample. Another great source of aviation SMS resources is from the Australian civil aviation authority, CASA.
An aviation safety management system is not simply a set of policies and procedures that are sitting on a shelf. The aviation SMS program goes beyond the paper sitting on the shelf, but the paper sitting on the shelf or policies and procedures posted on the online, Web based safety management software program are important! Don't discount their usefulness because the aviation SMS auditors will be using these polices and procedures to evaluate your SMS program. Your company needs to be practicing what your aviation SMS policies and procedures say that you will do.
For starters, an aviation safety management system is a regulatory requirement in almost every country. The United States is trailing because of the democratic nature of these rebels. Besides being the law, implementing a formal aviation safety management system makes good business sense. Operators should use this opportunity to improve their business processes and find ways to reduce operational risk and save money.
In short, you should implement your aviation SMS program because you will save money. Some studies showed that SMS implementations in Canada were costing the organizations $500,000 on average. When you consider the labor involved in an SMS implementation, this is a reasonable figure when you consider an SMS implementation spans a three to five year time period.
The accountable executive and all senior managers are accountable for operational safety. The accountable executive must be a visible force regarding safety and safety practices in your organization. Without the support of top management, your investment in an aviation safety management system will be wasted.
Implementing the aviation safety management system can be delegated, but the accountable executive and top management remain accountable. For an aviation SMS implementation to be effective, the top management must demonstrate visible commitment to safety. This commitment starts with providing the resources necessary to achieve the strategic safety goals and objectives of the organization. When top management does not provide resources for safety managers to perform their jobs effectively, this is an obvious sign that your top management does not support your aviation SMS implementation efforts.
To visibly demonstrate commitment to the aviation safety management system, there are several activities that should be considered to reduce resistance to change and send the signal that top management is behind the aviation SMS implementation. To begin, the safety manager is implementing the "boss' SMS program." You are not implementing "your" program. When there is no ambiguity as to who owns the aviation safety management program, there will be considerably less resistance from line and staff managers.
Other items to ensure top management is visibly committed may include:
- Having the accountable executive tour operations once per week/month with the director of safety (or safety manager);
- Place safety issues on corporate meeting agendas (from top down);
- Allocating necessary time and money to safety issues; and
- Promoting safety topics in newsletters.
How do you eat an elephant?.... one bite at a time. You won't eat an elephant in a week, so don't expect to implement your aviation SMS program in a week. There is a lot of work to do. Fortunately, you won't have to start from scratch. Almost every organization has MANY elements of an aviation safety management system. Risk management is not a new concept, but formalizing your safety risk management processes may be something new to you.
Where should you start? We've been doing this aviation safety management business for six years. Take my recommendation and start with getting top management commitment and secondly, a gap analysis. Your gap analysis will not only educate you as to the aviation SMS regulatory requirements, but also show you what you already have in your "system."
After you determine your aviation SMS shortcomings, then you should put a plan together to implement your aviation safety management system. Your SMS implementation plan will be dependent on resource availability, your organization's resistance to change and the complexity of your organization. An operation of 100 employees will need about three years to change the culture and get everyone on board to a successful SMS implementation.
An aviation safety management system can be implemented at any time of the year when there are sufficient resources available. Operators usually wait ten days before a safety audit, then they hurry up and try to do it all in a week. This is not possible or realistic. An effective safety management system will require three to five years to be fully implemented. But you have to start some place and time. So ten days before your safety audit is a good time because at least this will provide you the motivation to begin your aviation SMS implementation.
Why do I say ten days before the safety audit? I could have easily said two months. It really does not matter what we say. You will only start implementing your aviation safety management system when you feel the foot on your neck and pressure. This pressure may come from civil aviation authorities, but it often comes from clients who expect your company to be able to demonstrate that you have a fully functional aviation safety management system.
There is plenty of documentation on aviation safety management systems on the Web. This information may be prepared directly by ICAO, civil aviation authorities, SMS training schools, SMS consultants and aviation SMS software providers. Below is a list of recommended links that will provide more information.
More Sources on What is an Aviation Safety Management System
Aviation Safety Software Blog - What is an Aviation Safety Management System