SMS Pro Aviation Safety Software Blog 4 Airlines & Airports

Overview of 4 Phases of Aviation SMS Implementation

Posted by Tyler Britton on Aug 21, 2017 5:47:00 AM

How Long Does Aviation SMS Implementation Take?

4 Phases of Aviation SMS ImplementationCreating the 4 Phases of aviation SMS implementation is one of the great contributions that ICAO has made to the quality development of safety management systems. The 4 Phases of implementation provide a framework and road map service providers can follow to build a high-functioning safety program.

A basic description of each of the Phases of SMS implementation are:

  • Phase 1, which involves getting a high-level view of the current state of safety in the organization;
  • Phase 2, which involves defining, clarifying, and documenting many of the elements in Phase 1;
  • Phase 3, which involves establishing resources for many functionalities in the SMS program; and
  • Phase 4, which involves carrying out the use of many resources in Phase 3.

Following this framework keeps SMS implementation manageable. Without a structured plan, such as this, implementation of the SMS is:

  • Scary;
  • Hard to manage; and
  • Easily sidetracked or stalled.

Here is an overview of each of the 4 Phases of SMS implementation.

SMS Implementation Phase 1 – Get Grounded

SMS Implementation Phase 1 high revolves around simply getting grounded in the current state of the SMS program and other safety elements. The six primary activities (recommended by ICAO) are used to answer the questions:

  1. How are we currently managing safety?
  2. How do we ultimately want to manage safety?
  3. How are we going to get there?

Phase 1 of aviation SMS implementation establishes a large-scale answer of these questions with the following requirements for completing Phase 1:

  1. Identify accountable executive and other important stakeholders;
  2. Establish the implementation team (i.e., roles in company and individual people);
  3. Perform gap analysis;
  4. Develop an implementation plan;
  5. Establish timeline or board for coordinating various implementation elements; and
  6. Develop required documentation (i.e., required by oversight agency).

Phase 1 is listed as taking about a year to fully develop, though it can be longer or faster depending on, mainly, management oversight and existing safety culture.

SMS Implementation Phase 2 – Establish Baseline Elements

Many elements in Phase 2 of aviation SMS implementation build, clarify, and specify activities that were covered in Phase 1. The elements of Phase 2 are:

  1. Identify, define, and document safety responsibilities and accountabilities (i.e., see #1 from Phase 1);
  2. Define and document safety policy and objectives;
  3. Establish process for accident investigation;
  4. Document circumstances for penalties;
  5. Provide resources for safety oversight, such as aviation safety management system software; and
  6. Provide training resources.

Phase 2 generally should take about 12 months, like Phase 1. Often times, Phase 2 and Phase 1 may be completed in conjunction as they are closely related in several of their elements.

SMS Implementation Phase 3 – Provide Resources

Phase 3 of SMS implementation is considered the first major “hump,” or “road-block” of all the phases. It marks the transition point from:

  • Accounting for and documenting safety elements; to
  • Providing resources that actually influence safety elements.

Unfortunately, Phase 3 is also where many programs run into “box-checking.” This is basically accounting for a level of implementation on paper that does not actually exist in the operational environment.

Why does this happen in Phase 3? Because as said, Phase 3 requires the dispensing of resources – a dispensing which many SMS programs may not have the resources or energy to actually do. The elements of Phase 3 are:

  1. Establish process/resources for managing safety issues;
  2. Define Acceptable Level of Safety, withstanding which the SMS should intervene with further safety measures;
  3. Provide resources a confidential method of reporting issues;
  4. Provide means for sharing relevant safety data, such as Lessons Learned;
  5. Provide a hazard reporting (and other data acquisition) system; and
  6. Establish safety performance indicators (i.e., KPIs).

Full implementation of Phase 3 is time and energy intensive, and generally takes about 2 years.

SMS Implementation Phase 4 – Implement Reliability Measures

Getting over Phase 3 is a major accomplishment for SMS programs, and Phase 4 of aviation SMS implementation will simply continue many of the establishments of Phase 3. The activities include:

  • Review, agree upon, and monitor safety performance indicators;
  • Implement confidential reporting system;
  • Establish and monitor other safety performance indicators (i.e., that aren’t “key” performance indicators);
  • Promote and distribute safety information, and exchange it with other service providers;
  • Inspect and audit SMS based on analysis of safety data; and
  • Create process for internal review of the SMS program, and follow through with it.

To put it simply, much of Phase 4 simply involves following through with resources provided in Phase 3. Implementing full use of these resources will be time consuming, though less energy intensive than Phase 3.


For more information about SMS implementation, these resources should prove very useful:

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