"SMS" Is Common Term in Aviation Industry
Unless you have been living under a rock since November 2006, it is highly likely that you have heard about the required safety management systems (SMS) that were mandated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Since 2006, the Canadians and Australians have been truly embracing aviation SMS with the most zeal. These two countries' civil aviation authorities have consistently delivered the best guidance and oversight to assist a major transformation in how aviation service providers do business.
Since aviation SMS documentation requirements equally apply to small operators as well as to larger operators, what do you believe are the main components of SMS implementations?
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Each Component Necessary in Some Way for All Operators
When we speak of a "component" of an aviation SMS, I am not referring to the four pillars of an SMS implementation. Well, I mean this time, for this article. For review, the four SMS pillars are:
The components we are about to list fall within the four pillars. I'm struggling to find the correct term to keep this as simple as possible. This is because there is another term that is commonly used with SMS components. This word is element. If were were considering a classification scheme, we could consider the SMS pillars (a.k.a. components) as categories to group SMS requirements. The next level down are the "elements," of which there are twelve.
To visualize the relationship between the SMS components and SMS elements, consider a category >> sub-category hierarchy. As a matter of fact, you will recognize the four pillars and twelve elements in this familiar image at the right.
To be brief, i don't wish to confuse any SMS professional. But I need a word to describe the most common components or elements that are shared by all operators when they are implementing an ICAO-compliant aviation SMS.
Regardless of whether you are a small operator with incredibly simple operations, or a larger operator with complex operations, these "components" or "SMS artifacts" will need to be addressed whenever you are required to implement a regulatory compliant aviation SMS.
Regardless of whether you are required to have an aviation SMS or you are implementing an SMS for other reasons, you are encouraged to address these following components listed further below.
Why Implement Aviation SMS When Not Required?
Not all aviation service providers are required to implement formal SMS. The United States' democratic government style has significantly delayed SMS implementations for all service providers, including the Part 121 operators. It was not until January 2016 that scheduled operators were required to implement aviation SMS.
This does not mean that many U.S. operators neglected to adopt safety management systems. Quite the contrary. There are many operators that implemented SMS for a wide range of reasons, including:
- Hoped for competitive advantage;
- Contractual requirements of existing business relationships with oil companies and governmental organizations;
- Earnest desire to keep all stakeholders as safe as possible;
- Being an early adopter to avoid rush after regulations are implemented; and
- Adoption of best-in-class risk management processes that include operational, quality or security concerns;
- Desires to attract additional business relationships.
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Components of Aviation SMS Implementations for All Operators
Regardless of your operations' size and complexity, if you have an existing aviation SMS, or you are planning an SMS implementation, your SMS will need to include these following items:
- a safety policy signed by the accountable executive;
- documented process for planning and measuring safety performance;
- documented hazard identification process that evaluates and describes risk management processes;
- documented processes to confirm all employees are adequately trained to perform their duties;
- system for employees to report identified safety hazards;
- system or processes for tracking corrective actions and preventive actions to prevent recurring events;
- documented process for proactively identifying safety hazards and applying corrective, preventive or detective actions;
- documentation describing your aviation SMS and all risk management processes;
- documented process to ensure all employees understand their duties and responsibilities regarding the aviation SMS;
- process to routinely audit your safety management system based on time period and/or cause;
- process to ensure your aviation SMS implementation complies with regional regulatory requirements; and
- additional requirements as may be imposed by your regional CAA.
If you neglect to address any of these components listed above, you will not have a compliant SMS implementation.
SMS Components Remain Same Regardless of Operational Size
Regardless of whether you have 10 employees or ten thousand employees, the above list of SMS components or artifacts remains the same. The same principle applies across industry segments, whether you are an:
- Flight School;
- Aviation Maintenance Organization;
- Air Traffic Control (AMO or MRO); or
- Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP).
The difference is how detailed you are when dealing with these components. For example, if you have one-thousand employees, you may be expected to have a very complete and robust learning management system to schedule and document your aviation SMS training courses. On the other hand, very small operators could get by having their employees routinely read aviation safety articles to demonstrate recurring SMS training.
Regardless of which category and size you fit into, the SMS training requirements must be documented, just as all the other SMS requirements. It is not enough to say, "yes, we have that," or "yes, we do that." You must be able to prove it.
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"Documented" Remains Key Focus of Aviation SMS Implementations
Every aviation service provider has some of the identified SMS components/artifacts listed above. It is highly unlikely that you have all of the above components in your SMS implementation unless you have taken an organized approach to a formal SMS implementation.
In the above list of components, you will see a key word that calls for documentation. This is commonly the shortcoming of 90% of operators today. They don't have adequate tools to "document" their aviation SMS activities.
If you are implementing a formal SMS to address regulatory requirements, it is highly encouraged that you find aviation safety database tools early in the process of your SMS implementation. You will save considerable time and energy in the long run when you adopt a system to document all your SMS activities. This will save you from having to rework your documentation and processes.
I've been working with aviation SMS implementations since 2007 and have worked with hundreds of operators. The above advice should not go unheeded. Good luck with your SMS implementation.
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Published December 2016. Last updated August 2019.