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How to Use Trending Charts in Aviation SMS Programs

Posted by Christopher Howell on Dec 14, 2016 6:02:00 AM Find me on:

Using Trending Charts in Aviation SMS ProgramsHow To Use Trending Charts in Aviation SMS Programs

There are several times each year when managers are interested in trending charts coming from their aviation safety management systems (SMS). These times include during:

Trending is perhaps among the most difficult tasks for safety managers when they don't have automated tools and databases to capture hazard reports and to classify these reported issues.

Let's assume you have data. Which questions should you be asking to generate your trending charts?


What Are Trending Charts

Trending charts are commonly used by managers to understand how an organization is performing in relation to a goal or objective. Trending charts are created using data points over an established time period, such as:Aviation SMS Goals And Objectives can be monitored using trending charts

  • Month;
  • Year; or
  • Five year period.

Since data must be collected and measured, a database is commonly used to store data and to provide the data driving the trending charts. Aggregating data manually can be performed by the most safety managers, but there is a high degree of risk if your organization is relying upon manual processes. Manual processes for data collecting and measurements:

  • Often include more errors then data pulled from safety databases;
  • Require weeks of painstaking labor; and
  • Are not repeated regularly as the task is very laborious.

I met a safety manager seven years ago who spent three weeks each year aggregating data and generating reports because he relied on paper reports and spreadsheets. After acquiring an aviation SMS database, all managers in his company were able to accurately generate useful trending charts with little effort.

Aviation SMS Databases Require Work in Smaller Increments

Even though an aviation safety database allows managers to generate reports to analyze safety and quality processes, one should not be lead to believe that a safety database takes away all work. In the long run, safety and quality managers may be actually spending more time managing data than without the database; however, they are doing a little at a time over a prolonged period of time.

In short, there are two possible processes to collect safety and quality data to generate trending data:

  • Incremental gathering and classification of data over time; and
  • Aggregating and collating data on an as-needed basis.

For SMS programs, the first approach is preferable for companies:

  • With high employee turnover;
  • Having high labor expense (cost per qualified employees);
  • Needing immediate, real-time reports to measure performance.

Questions Drive Trending Charts

When you create trending charts, you are basically grouping data according to a classification parameter over time. Questions drive the generation of trending charts.

What is management interested in knowing?

Which elements are important to the company this month/year?

How are we doing regarding a particular process?

When considering these questions, it may be best to focus on your organization's key performance indicators (KPIs). KPIs have been selected for a particular reason, whether they are important to:

  • Upper management;
  • Civil aviation authority;
  • Safety department; or
  • Quality department.

If you have not selected KPIs relating to your aviation SMS program, we urge you to do this before you build your classification systems which will drive your trending charts.

Identify Parameters to Generate Your Trending Chart

When we create trending charts, there are a few variables of interest. They include:

  • Which division or part of the company are we interested in monitoring?
  • What data range do we want to monitor or review? (start and end dates)
  • What types of issues to review?Measuring Aviation Safety Performance using trending charts should be performed routinely. This task is best performed using an aviation SMS database built specifically for the aviation industry

When we consider "types of issues" to review, we consider:

  • Safety;
  • Security;
  • Quality;
  • Compliance; and
  • Environmental.

A good trending chart tool will allow you to either start with all types of issues and then drill into each specific type on demand. Of course, we are talking about easily and quickly generating real-time reports. The best aviation SMS tools are user-friendly and easy to use by all authorized managers.

Another useful consideration is having the ability to weed out all types of issues except your KPIs. If you are using an aviation SMS database today, you know there are many ways of classifying reported issues or events; however, not all types are important to monitoring the process that "answers your questions." Therefore, we need a way to easily filter KPIs from the sea of data.

Generating Trending Charts Should Be Easy and Routine

If you cannot easily and quickly create a trending chart from your data, there is a big risk to your aviation SMS program. You cannot effectively monitor safety performance in your SMS program without the ability to classify reported issues and to easily pull out valuable trending charts.

Trending charts allow management to set goals and objectives and to regularly monitor progress.

You can manually create your trending charts, but if you are like my friend who spent three weeks a year collating data for trending charts, you are probably ready to either:

  • Look for a new job; or
  • Ignore trending charts next time the request is made.

 But the question you must ask management is:

How can our company demonstrate continuous improvement of our SMS program to regulatory authorities and SMS auditors without being able to easy create trending charts?


If you need help with trending charts to monitor the progress of your SMS program, you should be considering SMS Pro. SMS Pro is considered the best aviation SMS software program designed specifically for the aviation industry.

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