What Is Aviation Safety Software?
For over ten years, the majority of commercial aviation service providers around the world have been working towards compliance with ICAO's aviation safety management system (SMS) guidelines.
Safety professionals around the world can learn some very valuable lessons from those that have already implemented their SMS programs. We have seen an evolution from using readily available in-house software tools to the adoption of commercially available, low cost aviation safety software.
Complying with ICAO's SMS guidelines requires consistent effort safety departments. Aviation SMS programs affect entire organizations and successful SMS implementations adopt lasting and significant cultural changes.
When safety managers first begin their SMS implementations, they may attempt to manage their SMS program with existing tools, including:
- MS Word;
- MS Excel;
- MS Access;
- SharePoint; and
Then the problems start arising.
Mature SMS Programs Demand Aviation Risk Management Software
Safety managers may coast along nicely for the first few years because of SMS auditors:
- Were not as demanding for fledgling aviation SMS implementations;
- May not have known what to look for; or
- Were corrupt and not provided honest evaluations.
As years pass in an airline or airport's SMS implementation,
- Considerable amounts of data start amassing, demanding higher SMS documentation workloads;
- Auditors become more sophisticated and firm; and
- Safety departments spend increasing amounts of time demonstrating "safety assurance" and "continuous improvement."
These reasons prompt airline and airport safety departments to either:
- Build their aviation risk management tools in-house;
- Purchase commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) aviation SMS software; or
- Continue to flounder and hope for lax SMS auditors.
Unless your airline or airport is very large, you may not have sufficient budget to develop your own risk management software. This is usually reserved for the very large players, such as Boeing, Delta Air Lines, or China Southern Airlines.
For most aviation service providers, you are better off using commercial risk management software developed specifically for managing ICAO's aviation SMS requirements.
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What to Expect From Aviation Risk Management Tools
If your airline or airport either build your own software or purchase commercial aviation SMS software, then you should expect your SMS solution to provide many benefits. Six benefits should include:
#1 Automated Workflow Notifications for Safety Department
Your risk management software should provide automated notifications at predetermined times in your risk management processes. For example, the most common automated notifications are either email or SMS texts.
They may fire automatically when:
- New hazards are reported;
- Aviation safety items (tasks, corrective actions, audits, training) are assigned;
- Assigned safety items are completed;
- Assigned safety items are overdue; or
- Safety messages require action.
#2 Collaborative Aviation SMS System
One of the problems with the paper, MS Word or MS Excel is that only one person can work on the file. Then the file is saved and passed to the next person in the workflow. Modern, Web-based aviation SMS programs allow multiple persons to work on the system simultaneously. The documentation is available to all managers with appropriate permissions.
#3 Deliver More Aviation Safety Services With Less Effort
If you have ever looked at the requirements of the fifth element of first ICAO pillar, SMS Documentation will give you a taste of how much work is involved in managing ICAO compliant SMS programs. Safety departments have tremendous amounts of work to do. To do it all well, aviation-specific risk management software is required.
If you are a safety manager, then you should communicate these requirements and the amount of effort required, to the Accountable Executive. SMS Documentation is only one element, albeit perhaps one that takes the most amount of effort.
Safety promotion activities also require constant attention that can consume considerable time from safety managers. Without proper risk management tools, safety promotion activities will seldom be realized. Aviation risk management software multiplies the efficiency and capabilities of the safety department by at least a multiple of two.
#4 Centralized Storage of Aviation Safety Data
Modern risk management software is based on enterprise-grade databases. The more popular SMS databases are either:
- Microsoft SQL Server; or
MS Access can be used, but usually lacks performance and the ability to satisfy SMS data management requirements of all but the smallest airlines or airports.
Centralized SMS databases are useful in that multiple users can access SMS data simultaneously. Furthermore, the database is typically on a secure server. When safety managers leave the airline or airport, SMS data is not lost. More than once I've heard of safety managers leaving with the aviation SMS program on the safety manager's personal laptop.
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#5 SMS Program Continuity
A sick feeling should enter the stomach of Accountable Executives whenever they think of the safety manager quitting their airline or airport. Safety managers are key personnel, and when safety managers leave the company, they leave with considerable company safety management knowledge.
Aviation risk management tools allow a replacement safety manager to pick up where the last safety manager left off. There will be some incongruities of course, but documentation will exist. Risk management processes will also not have to be reconstructed when the airline or airport is using best-in-class risk management software that follows ICAO's SMS guidelines.
#6 Easier for Safety Managers to Pass Aviation SMS Audits
Risk management software is built using structured processes and workflows that are based on accepted methodologies.
Additionally, SMS data is contained in one system, thereby allowing safety auditors to easily discover whether an airline or airport is in compliance with SMS requirements.
The best risk management databases accommodate the requirements for all four ICAO SMS components or pillars. When all SMS requirements can be managed by one system, regulatory compliance becomes easy for SMS auditors to determine. Additionally, less time is required for airlines and airports to prepare for these audits.
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Final Thoughts on Risk Management Software Benefits
All the above-mentioned benefits are great news for airlines and airports considering the acquisition of SMS software tools. Most systems are Web-based, but the problem with Web-based systems is that they are reliant on network connectivity.
Many regions in northern Canada, Africa, and southeast Asia still have troubles with reliable Internet connectivity. In these cases, another solution may be required.
Most operators today have access to reliable Internet connectivity.
The final word is that efficient and effective management of an ICAO compliant SMS program requires tools. Otherwise you aviation SMS implementation will not survive. If your SMS program has been hobbling along inefficiently and you are not satisfying all the SMS requirements, then your organizations should be considering upgrading to more efficient risk management tools.
See how your company can benefit from risk management software.
Published September 2015. Last updated December 2018.